SOR JUANA CUTS HER HAIR by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

“It turned out that the hair grew quickly and I learned slowly. As a result, I cut off the hair in punishment for my head’s ignorance, for it didn’t seem right to me that a head so naked of knowledge should be dressed up with hair, for knowledge is a more desirable adornment,” — from The Reply to the Very Illustrious Sor Filotea de la Cruz, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

I cut carefully as if I handled a newborn,

strands falling at my feet.
A curtain of hair threads my cold hands.
Hair curls

at my heels, a sign of wanting 
and turning away from want, that furred animal desire
shedding summer.
It is good
to be frigid and bald. It is another kind of
flush.
I let my shed hair climb

legs, cover thighs,
weight the body 
in its own dark thread.

I have given away everything, poverty 
pouring out of me, running over
my cup. I have written 
my own privation in blood on the inside

of my skull, the stubble of those words
leading down my spine, a bristle of faith.

God, take me inside that place
I am shaving myself down 
to know.
To understand what’s it like to sit

like God bereft, shorn of body
of beauty and plenty. So poor,

Dear God, so poor
and lonelyhearted,

pacing your hair-strewn cage.
Tell me how you will do it,
 tell me how you’re going to get out.


Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a Mexican- American Jewish writer who lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and three children. Her poetry has appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Southern Women’s Review, Storyscape Literary Journal, Improbable Worlds: An Anthology of Texas and Louisiana Poets by Mutabilis Press, and is forthcoming in Tinderbox Literary Journal and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. Her personal essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Houston Chronicle, The Toast, Ozy, and Dame Magazine.

Her first collection of poems, Fuego, was published by Saint Julian Press in March 2016. She holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and a BA in English from Rice University, where she won the Academy of American Poets’ College & University Prize in 2001.