I was born to be gawked at and lauded: “How pretty!”
they say, and I grit my teeth, my multi-
cultural smile hiding fangs as they marvel at my skin.
This body of intertwining complexity
confounds them, so I prepare to be seen in halves
as if I am the part that splits their hair.
They always start with the hair,
digging their fingers around my strands, so “pretty”
and “good” that it can’t be from my “shameful” half.
I bite my tongue, withholding the multitude
of spiteful words burning under my complex,
They see my skin
and think it’s like theirs, making the hair
raise from my body as my complexion
disguises me. I have never wanted to be pretty
if it meant ignoring my multiplicity.
They only care when you look like their half.
To the other side, the half
that I am is not enough, my skin
too fair to hide the multiple
histories of my life, my “good” hair
too unlike theirs. Being this kind of pretty
makes fitting in a riddle that is too complex.
Some do not see my color’s complexity
yet claw at the invisible to tear me in half,
clinging to the part they’d rather see. My pretty
history is a sham, the birth of one with my skin
a mistake, like the chemical damage of my sister’s hair.
I never knew that pain could be multiplied.
I am not someone’s dreamed-up multi-
ethnic princess. My duality defies definition, my complex
DNA cannot be boxed. I will learn to love the thickness of my hair.
They think I am the bridge between worlds, half
of me tempering the other, but my skin
has bled too many times for being the wrong kind of pretty.
Now I search for the beauty in the multitude of scars left
on my skin, past attempts to dig out my complexities.
I have found the whole of me in the thick layers of my hair.
Divinia Shorter is a Towson University graduate with a B.A. in Theatre Studies and minor in Creative Writing. Published in Grub Street, her poem “Mixed Sestina” won first place in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s national competition for closed (traditional) form poetry. A writer of many forms, Shorter spent much of her time working in and with Towson Theatre Lab as a dramaturg and Managing Director and is now the Literary Fellow at Playwrights Horizons.