Hairbands: A Poem From Julia Alvarez

I’m always happy when National Poetry Month comes along.  It’s easy to forget about poetry in our busy lives, in our busy world. We don’t seem to forget to read novels or newspapers or works of popular culture or history. We don’t forget to read about nature or to study recipes. But I do forget to read poetry until I those reminders appear in front of me every April. Here I’d like to share one of my favorite of Julia Alvarezs poems from her book THE WOMAN I KEPT TO MYSELF. Algonquin will be reissuing the book in paperback in time for the next celebration of Poetry Month.

— Elisabeth Scharlatt, Algonquin Publisher


My husband has given away my hairbands
in my dream to the young women he works with,
my black velvet, my mauve, my patent leather one,
the olive band with the magenta rose
whose paper petals crumple in the drawer,
the flowered crepe, the felt with a rickrack
of vines, the twined mock-tortoise shells.
He says I do not need them, I’ve cut my hair,
so it no longer falls in my eyes when I read,
or when we are making love and I bend over him.

But no, I tell him, you do not understand,
I want my hairbands even if I don’t need them.
These are the trophies of my maidenhood,
the satin dress with buttons down the back,
the scented box with the scalloped photographs.
This is my wild-haired girlhood dazzled with stories
of love, the romantic heroine with the pale, operatic face
who throws herself on the train tracks of men’s arms.
These are the chastened girl-selves I gave up
to become the woman who could be married to you.

But every once in a while, I pull them out
of my dresser drawer and touch them to my cheek,
worn velvet and faded silk, mi tesoro, mi juventud—
which my husband has passed on to the young women
who hold for him the promise of who I was.
And in my dream I weep real tears that wake me up
to my husband sleeping beside me that deep sleep
that makes me tremble thinking of what is coming.
And I slip out of bed to check that they are still mine,
my crumpled rose, my mauve, my black hairbands.

From The Woman I Kept to Myself, by Julia Alvarez. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York City and Lamy, NM. All rights reserved.  No further reproduction or distribution is permitted.

4 Comments On This Post:

April 23, 2010
12:00 pm
Blair Publisher says...

Thank you for brightening my day with this poem! We truly don’t get enough poetry in our lives.

June 27, 2011
5:35 pm
Pomes says...

Agreed with the last comment, we forget or don’t even know that poetry has been in the beginning even before language!! With out poetry we would not be who we are.

March 9, 2014
6:45 pm
Belkys says...

I read this beautiful poem last night at an International Women’s Day gathering for the National Organization of Women. thank you for publishing it here! It really made my night…. <3 One Love

April 20, 2015
1:28 pm
#NationalPoetryMonth Round-up (Day 20) | Bonespark~ says...

[…] Caddy| “Editing the Moon” Mark Strand| “Dreams” (read by Maria Popova) Julia Alvarez| “Hairbands” Marilyn Chin| “How I Got That Name” Orlando White| “Circle Shape” Mary […]

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