My brothers got curly hair, though Mark, my younger brother keeps it cropped close. My older brother, Anthony, has big bushy hair. He’s been mistaken for Cuban, Puerto Rican, Native American, Samoan…once in a while they say he looks Filipino.



I once heard that Jesus would have looked like this. That if he walked down 20th St. you wouldn’t be able to tell if he were Armenian or Quechua, Eskimo or Eritrean. That’s my brother. After a couple years of wearing his hair business-man short, he’s grown it out again. It’s like cinder. It’s like dark, dark ash in spindles. It’s midnight collected in spindles then shaken out into a wild Brillo of fine black filaments.



My sadness is like my brother’s hair. It grows past my shoulders. Sometimes a strange woman with a nose ring who smells like sandalwood will want to touch me for it. Now and then, as my brother does with his hair, I pull it back or hide under a hood or big hat. I cut it off myself. But it grows and grows. People have gotten to know me from blocks away by the way it grows.

I spent years shaving it off. Some mornings I stand in front of the mirror with a razor feeling for the stubble in a rage at the base of my cranium. I can never completely rid myself of it. My love says it makes me look older. One day, I’ll be too old to groom it down to bare skin.



A brother I love with all my heart has been mistaken for a thousand men who aren’t me. I think of all the tufts I’ve cut off in all the rooms around the world. All the sadness I think I leave behind. The tufts swept up into corners and dustpans. They must become a part of the dirt and earth and air, taken up by a couple big gusts of wind. People mistake it for grime, but it’s just what grows out of my head.



I’ve shaved my hair right off. I’ve set it on fire, singed it with a match, sniffed its rancid, oily stink. My brother tells me to let it grow.

It’s gotten so long, I’ve built a house of it.



I’m at home wherever I go.


Patrick Rosal is the author of three full-length poetry collections, Boneshepherds (forthcoming), My American Kundiman (2006), and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (2003). His collections have been honored with the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members’ Choice Award. In 2009, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines.

Illustration by Marc Snyder