———finalist———


On Deep Conditioning


August, and the boy wells up with pride like the city bird. His first love was not a fade, but instead a fro. And like the fastest in the kingdom, he can see the forest from the trees, the plot from the wishful thinking. When he is asked what he wants, he spots the command strips on the wall, the speckled plaster of which does not disturb him in the way the twists and locks do. It is a terrible year for appeal and it isn’t that they are unkept, but that some time before he swung the tempered glass of the exit open, the world had already convinced him what was his to keep.


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A few known facts about that bird. They are known to live on skyscrapers in the municipal. The species’ name most closely translates to wanderer. They thrive in the open. And the boy cares little as you do for these cues. Daily, he refuses them and watches chance broadcasts on blue jays. But the tree branches in the boy’s neighborhood have all fallen. The boy expressly misses one letter whenever he spells out the word accommodate. The boy is in the other room lobbying his lungs into a quintessential r&b’d hold me down. The boy does not have braids, has never had braids, but admires the effect they have in music videos. The boy gets one of his ears pierced on a whim at a booth in the mall. It is the right one. By the time he is in the car, he has been questioned by loved ones and strangers. He is told the right one is seen as the gay one and he would be remiss to have it if he doesn’t want to be seen in that way. The piercing closed by year’s end. It is hot and infected.


\\\


The boy goes years without hearing a bedtime story but won’t go mere weeks without the touch of the blade on the tip of a clipper. Every time the boy heads into the shop, there are as many women waiting as there are men. Every time the boy sees a woman barber, he observes the aversion. There are half of half as many men willing to sit in the woman’s chair. The boy knows how the men feel about women there by the peculiar quell of complaints launched when they were present compared to when they were absent. If women are difficult, then what are we, the boy grieves as he thinks of the kinks in conflating. For all other animals, we are content in our calling their skin hide. But for us, it is described by the many violences we have not hidden from. For us, it is the charm of virility. The boy palms the mirror and pivots his neck to scan what has been done. He gripes with his ends splattered like small clouds across the floor. Brushes his roots despite his sense of breakage.





OLATUNDE OSINAIKE is a Nigerian-American poet and software developer originally from the West Side of Chicago. He is the author of the chapbooks Speech Therapy, winner of the 2019 TAR Chapbook Series (forthcoming) and The New Knew (Thirty West Publishing House, 2019). A Best of the Net, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, his most recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Best New Poets 2018, RHINO, Prelude, Cosmonauts Avenue, Winter Tangerine, and Columbia Poetry Review, among other publications. He is an incoming masters candidate at Johns Hopkins and also currently serves on poetry staff at The Adroit Journal.

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