The day Sam's parents cut the string
connecting their tin can telephone to his
and pointed their ears in the direction of disownment,
Sam tilted himself like an easel in my chair
and asked me for a haircut.
He wanted his hair to speak the language of anger,
which I can only sightread but he knows
just as fluently as the language
of seizures
and shelters
and survival.
Sam is nineteen years old,
constructed like a switchblade that has
only ever been used to scrape away
the life that gets stuck underneath city fingernails
and has never really shined;
he is terrified of ambulances not because
they run red lights but because
his wallet can't,
and likes hospitals even less.
There is only so much you can do with half an inch of
buzz cut regrowth
matted with what he tells me is caramel and chocolate sauce
and when Kayla asks what hairstyle he'd like
Sam speaks happiness like a foreign language,
translates it to:
what will make my parents maddest?
and asks again for change.
Terk, who has a smile so loud it echoes off his cheekbones
and bangs into dimples
tells Sam to copy his red and black head labyrinth
when Sam stays rusted in place.
And eventually,
with no counter offer Sam agrees to it,
I think because
anger is the wig disappointment wears, and
imitating someone else's happiness is better than
having none at all.


A/N: I work with at-risk LGBTQ youth, many of whom are on the homeless youth continuum. Lately I have been working on writing more truth and experience into my poetry. Sam and Terk are not their real names.