When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer: A Poem by Michele Tracy Berger

This month I have a poem for you by the wonderful Michele Tracy Berger.

Title Card for When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer by Michele Tracy Berger.

Hello! This month I have a poem for you by the wonderful Michele Tracy Berger. Michele won the Carl Brandon Society’s Parallax Award for her story "Doll Seed", which appeared in issue #11 of FIYAH. That story is amazing, and worth the price of the issue all on its own!

I love the way Michele thinks about gender and identity, so I was thrilled to receive this poem from her. The question of who gets to have a natural hairstyle and what “proper” hair care means is deeply enmeshed with systemic racism and misogyny. On the surface this poem may seem to be frivolous—it’s about doing hair—but I love the mix of gentleness and assertiveness that this beautician brings to her trade. She knows exactly how fraught hair can be, and she works her own magic to help her clients heal from past hurts and make them feel empowered.

This poem was released early to my paid subscribers. It is now publicly available for all to enjoy! Thanks so much to my paid subscribers for making it possible for me to pay fairly for creative work from amazing writers!


Title Card for When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer by Michele Tracy Berger. The title appears in pink script and the author name appears in aqua script over a photo of two Black women. One has long wavy hair and is using a white comb to style the other's hair into a short straight bob.

When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer

by Michele Tracy Berger

Remember your mama’s hands
when you were little,
sitting between her legs,
and she cooed while
crafting
a style for you?

That’s how you feel when
you’re in my chair--
like your mama
is doing
your hair.

I am a healer,
a modern day shaman
whose tools
are metal flat irons,
big pink rollers,
slippery, translucent gels,
and hair oils
that smell like
exotic fruits
from faraway lands.

Now, you might say
weaves, wigs,
do-it-yourself kits,
and YouTube videos
will do.

People
don’t
need
a beautician
anymore.

But, I am a healer.
I diagnose, conjure,
and read signs
like the ancients.

Bald spots at the temples,
hair uprooted
because of nerves,
or violent hands.
Thick, whitish scars
on the scalp,
evidence of harsh products,
arrogant beauticians’ mistakes.

Worst of all,
plain,
unloved hair.

I help them all.
They come to me
wanting to be beautiful:
the scared and timid schoolgirl,
the recently broken-hearted,
the ones whose man
left them for another,
the ones that left their fancy
job in corporate America,
those with Ph.Ds,
and the ones
just happy
they got their GEDs.

I’ve worked
on deaconesses
and dollmakers!

When they sit in my chair
their status,
or degrees don’t matter—
they all need some attention.

My attention.

I send women
into altered states.
They come out of my salon,
whirling dervishes of attitude.

I can make them look like anyone,
but, I always wait
to see if they want to look
like themselves

...that’s where the real magic is.