Kempt

I’ve been living in my body for many years. It has changed. Girls my age use tweezers and razors, but I let my hair spread lawlessly. When I’m in the bathroom, I take a shower, look in the mirror, and observe the strays that nest beneath the wingspan of my eyebrows. I let them be, wild as beasts beside our backyard creek. I seldom ask for money to visit the drugstore. Deodorant, a little shampoo, and conditioner is all I need. My father says, just use soap. Tried that once. There were flecks in my hair that wouldn’t come out. I walk into my bedroom. Instead of grooming, I use my fingers to draw shapes and shades late into the night. There’s no T.V. My brother is gone. He stole a credit card and was off to Thailand. But there is peace in the house.

Then one night my brother returns home.

A mildewed backpack and a ripped sleeping bag are flung beside the front door where he walks in.

He steps into the bathroom. Unlike me, he loves to shave and pluck the hairs on his body. 

He’s hairy because my mother struggled with infertility for three years. She swallowed a lot of testosterone right before she got pregnant with him.

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‘My Brother’s Death’ by Chuka Susan Chesney, Watercolor with Pen and Ink, 2015

The bathroom door remains locked for many hours. When I have to go, I use the powder room.

When he comes out, the counter is covered with dark stubble, as if it had grown a beard. The razor on the sink is full. I look in the tub. A ring and black, curled pubic hairs blemish the porcelain.

“Clean it up,” my mother tells me. “It’s good practice for when you’re married.”

My brother shaves his cheeks above his beard, his upper arms, his back, and wherever else he can reach. He sculpts his eyebrows because he wants to be pretty.

When he’s not shaving and plucking and tweezing away, he simmers mussels in the kitchen─and leaves a mess. 

After he eats, he drives off in his dented Firebird.  

“He’ll turn up again like a bad penny,” my father remarks.

My brother calls us from the E.R. with a broken jaw. His brakes went out. The car swooped down the hill and wrapped around a traffic pole. 

My father picks him up at 2 a.m.

My mother blends oxtail soup in the blender for him.

When his jaw is healed, he steals a credit card─again.


CHUKA SUSAN CHESNEY has a BFA in Fashion Illustration from Art Center College of Design and an MAT from Occidental College. She is an artist, poet, curator, and editor. Her award-winning paintings and sculpture have been shown in galleries all over the country. Her poems have been published on three continents. You Were a Pie So We Ate You, a book of Chesney’s poems was the winner of the 2018 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Chapbook Contest. In October 2018, Chesney curated the “I Pity da Poe” exhibition at the Hive Gallery in Downtown L.A. In November, Chesney hosted a poetry reading with Don Kingfisher Campbell at the YEAR ONE exhibition featuring Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata’s collaborative art at Castelli Art Space in Mid City. Chesney’s anthology of poetry and art Lottery Blues, coedited by Ulrica Perkins will be published by Little Red Tree Publishing in 2019.