‘Nipple Hair’, a new poem by Genna Gardini

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents a new poem by Genna Gardini.


Nipple Hair

I used to pluck a hair that grew out my nipple
unbidden, thick as a toothpick
and sneaking from some less-scrutinised spot.

Until I got sick.
Then I thought: you know what?
Just let that fucker thrive. Why not?

At first, I watched the follicle forage free,
wary, or, no, suspicious as it arrived,
slowly stretching past my flesh, seeming almost shy.

But it turned out the hair wasn’t what I’d thought at all.
It wasn’t sharp like a blunt needle or some forgotten ex
(impotent but still poised to prick).

Instead, it was downy and personal as a pube,
collecting at the root but pliant in the branch.
Reaching towards me, I thought, like I was its only chance.

It crept from my areola light brown, a small mammal.

I began to like the idea of it. My nipple hair.
A plant I’d coaxed out the cotton-wool clump of my chest,
lapping sweetly from the pool of my hospital gown sweat.

I even bemoaned that I couldn’t grow it a friend.
It seemed almost lonely to me in comparison with the hair on my legs

that leant at each other like co-eds,
peeking out, that soft shock, from above my socks,
and giggling, ‘Bet you didn’t expect to see us here.’

Or the pelt under my pits, armed
with 24-hour Shield, weaponised and ready to fight,
so whenever I waved, they’d yell ‘Fuck you!’ to anyone in sight.

Even the short sprouts of my toes were like buddies at a bar,
boasting over a beer or coveting some car.
They all had community, I realised. And they all had a job.

Unlike my lone nipple hair.

That sat single, wilting and stuck to my tit,
aimless as a rash, irritating as a tick.

It used my body, I began to understand,
as only a base to laze each hour away.

Like it was an unemployed son and my breast
the couch he played computer games on.

I started to resent the nipple hair.

I missed the former unflowered landscape of my chest.
There never used to be a drooping weed
between the cement streets of my stretchmarks.

Now, whenever I saw it, I thought:
I once had a smooth, uninterrupted highway
of a boob before you.

Then I got the sense that the feeling might be mutual,
that the nipple hair wished that I wasn’t there.

That it longed for the old charge of independence,
trying to pierce past skin when my vigilance waned.
Missing the audacity of aspiration. Missing the old days.

One morning, I woke up and the hair was gone.
With no warning. As if it’d snuck away in the night,
sneering ‘So long, sucker!’

All that was left, the hair’s parting gift,
was a deep pink fissure along my chest,
unplanted and permanent as a crack in a pot.

My skin’s irremovable tracing of loss.

I don’t check for the nipple hair any more,
but every so often I’ll catch sight of a spot
travelling just beneath the thin skin of my sternum.

It circles my heart, too far to reach
with any tweezers, or any threat.

And whenever I see it, I’m reminded
that there’s still something persistent
and unpluckable in me yet.

Previously unpublished, © Genna Gardini, 2020

  • Genna Gardini is a writer, theatre-maker, and educator from South Africa. She’s currently based in the UK, where she’s a PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Her work has been published and performed widely. Her debut collection of poetry, Matric Rage, received a commendation for the 2016 Ingrid Jonker prize. Gardini has taught at the University of Cape Town, CityVarsity Cape Town, and QMUL.
Header image: Daniel Olah on Unsplash

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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