Bessie’s Testimony

Bessie’s Testimony

The title of this post is a near-mystery, and for that reason I wish to honor and publish it. It came up when I tried to copy and paste the verse text to follow into my Word file for this blog. That is to say, I started to compose a new entry, but the page opened up with the title already on it, without my putting it there. I know the Bessie in question, or at least I hope I do, but I haven’t yet written about her here. Or have I lost track? It’s possible! I’m a poet; I live with this every day: I opened my poetry text file for December, and the page I left dated but otherwise empty for tonight showed me the title line, never, I swear, typed by me: Bessie’s Testimony. It makes no sense, and yet it makes all sense. Even if someone comes forward to offer a logical explanation, that still won’t explain why these machines were reading poetry in the first place.

Regarding tonight’s poem, before all this: I had brownish, but slightly reddish, hair when I was young. It was thick enough, and would grow to seemingly endless lengths. I wanted to look like a classical nymph or goddess, Burne-Jones style, but it also bothered me, it felt itchy on my skin, and my nervous disposition finally deteremined all on its own that hair-pulling was the least destructive release of otherwise unbearable excessive energy.

After growing it, cutting it, growing it, cutting it, and fighting for and against it always, I now cut my hair off every two or three weeks, velvet-close, and it honestly makes me happy for the first time since I was a child. It feels so lovely to touch, and it never turns into dust-serpents (we can hardly call them bunnies). Cast-off human hair is a serious hazard to birds, and birds are among my best friends, so I am also happy to know that doing something for my own well-being is also so good for them.

Bessie is Bessie Griffin, and this is my favorite place to hear her testimony:

4 December 2014


The Hair She Plaits by Night

The fine, silken hair that took acres of legends of dreams out of time out of mind to grow long
just lies like a sad waste of everything mindful, one half in her hand, and one half in the wrong
sort of mirror. Its lovelessness showed her the nothing that wanted to rise from within her and feed.
Small little ocean of tears I command, steal down from me swift as the tide. Full Moons bleed
on and on through a sheet frail as magic, and thin as a tissue of lies where a virgin once lay.
Let their red witness just play through your mind, then come back and tell me the things you will say.
Sing them, if brushing the mane that’s so silky will help the mare run at past ghost-speed this night;
sigh them, if that will feel safer. We’re still going to number the shed-count. We won’t get it right
altogether, but we’ll get it all each and severally real as the cast of your eyes when you read
the lines I had sent you—dawn, yesterday—and the soft words that amazed you, and all that you said—
when you first met my meanings, and we knew we’d always arranged for this meeting. It’s come, plaited hair
such as mine used to be—but I pulled it out, all of it. Now it’s a velvety layer I wear
because once was a burden I sang and I tried hard to love like its cultivar, song made of lines.
Birds come to me with their feet all bound up with long fine human hair and it hurts them. Such signs
wing toward me, wheel round me, encircle me, shiningly, happily know me, and seek me, and feed.
All my old brush-hair just had to be fed to a furnace to keep my friends safe, as birdseed
is food most of all to the god of high song as he knows me and sends his reminders I’m loved.
I have no more hair to plait, nor will ever, but I am a woman impossibly doved.

By night, in her dreams, sometimes she is an angel who’s dear streaming draft is a long silver wake.
That’s where the hair of me shines. That’s where wearing wild non-sense is real. Waves, you never there break.

We all struggle with the way we want to see ourselves, and the way we feel we are. None of this is particularly real, and absolutely none of it is permanent. Time is the sickness we need to see through. Then, we will see each other and ourselves as we have always been and will be.


About J

formal verse poetry and commentary at
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