A Fairy Tale of Blackboyhood


“A Fairy Tale of Blackboyhood” by Dāshaun Washington is the second-place winner of the 2023 Previously Published Poem Prize, selected by Palette editors. We’re honored to share this moving poem with you.

This poem was first published in Poem-a-Day, 2021.

A Fairy Tale of Blackboyhood

When I say Black, what I mean is the curl of my hair is tight enough to snag the teeth of a wide-tooth comb. So, I don’t comb my hair when I’m in the comfort of my home. This comfort is the standard by which I determine who, what, where is home. I rarely feel home in my father’s home.

When I was 21, my father kissed my forehead and this was the first time he ever kissed me. My father’s lips recall a different story. But this is my tale of a boy whose hard head grew tender from his father’s kiss. The words I love you boy seeped into my newly-softened skull. For just a moment, my father returned my boyhood so he could feel the gratification of kissing his son goodnight. It had to be that way.

The only way to rake my hair into a neat brush of manageable coils is to first wet it thoroughly. Before I leave my home, I sometimes—most times—tame my hair with water to allow it to floss the teeth of the comb, to bear the brunt of its bite. I sometimes long for watered-down brown tresses that know to bow to the comb’s might. I sometimes wish my hair would grow into an impenetrable forest, endless and black as starless nights.

When I say Black, I mean my father’s hardened bosom has left me disheartened— desensitized to all but the snatch of a fine-tooth comb. I’ve been taught a man must be made a boy before he can receive a kiss from another man, and such ancient magic must be sparingly used. Sometimes—most times—I sleep with one eye open and hope to reunite with the strange magician who makes boys of men with forehead kisses. On these nights, I lie in bed and wait for him to cast his spell. As I sleep, my father combs his fingers through my hair and plants his lips on my eager forehead. On these nights, I wake floating above my bed in boyish bliss. On these nights, I feel home.


—originally published in Poem-a-Day

Dāshaun Washington

Dāshaun Washington is a poet living in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is a 2023-2025 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry and a 2021 92Y Discovery Poetry Contest runner-up. He has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Lighthouse Works, Ucross Foundation, Millay Arts, Tin House, and beyond. His work has appeared in Poetry, The Nation, Indiana Review, Poem-a-Day, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere.