Natasha Trethewey

11. Self-Employment, 1970

Who to be today? So many choices,
all that natural human hair piled high,
curled and flipped—style after style
perched, each on its Styrofoam head.
Maybe an upsweep, or finger waves
with a ponytail. Not a day passes
that she goes unkempt—
Never know who might stop by—
now that she works at home
pacing the cutting table,
or pumping the stiff pedal
of the bought-on-time Singer.

Most days, she dresses for the weather,
relentless sun, white heat. The one tree
nearest her workroom, a mimosa,
its whimsey of pink puffs cut back
for a child’s swing set. And now, grandchildren—
it’s come to this—a frenzy of shouts,
the constant slap of an old screen door.
At least the radio still swings jazz
just above the noise, and
ah yes, the window unit—leaky at best.
Sometimes she just stands still, lets
ice water drip onto upturned wrists.
Up under that wig, her head
sweating, hot as an idea.