‘Triple Sonnet for my Aggressive Forehead’
— Nix Thérèse
One of the most memorable lines of Junglepussy’s ‘Bling Bling’, the gutsy anthem shifting gears from men’s gazes to ambition, extols us:
like Rihanna’s forehead, bitch, you gotta think big! Yet I find myself cringing every time, hand over mouth, as years of being othered boil to the surface. When a barber accidentally nicked a bald spot into my fro, I spent the days leading up to my graduation in abject panic that my forehead was too prominent until I caught myself laughing in a reflective surface. My face morphed into a heart shape every time my mouth turned up, and I finally saw the softness I’d been seeking. But it’s always been nuanced among Black people. Consider “hey bighead” as the quintessential move to imply “I’m checking for you, but not too hard” or the endless memes decrying being duped by men whose whole swagger gets snatched once they take off their snapbacks. The forehead can easily become one of the most scrutinized stretches of skin we have, yet it remains the most unchangeable. It’s clearly a double bind.
When the speaker tackles the commentary surrounding her “aggressive forehead” and all the comparisons are otherworldly, it’s easy to see how out of hand this can get:
My father thinks my forehead is too Godzilla, too Tarzan, too Wonder Woman / tells me not to tie my hair back, / exposing it, like it’s the Frankenstein Monster. Frankenstein’s Monster doesn’t even get a name; his entire existence is an inscription of his creator, his existential crises a shadow of Frankenstein’s reckless mind. Yet this reference feels so apt in the context of parent-child relationships because sometimes the flaws parents love to rip apart are the very ones that they gave us. How can you light the torch and then blame us for all the smoke? The mixed feels continue with Tarzan because all the untainted relationships he’s allowed to have in nature would be coded differently if he was darker. Some of us can’t imagine being descended from apes as anything but a character flaw, the implied primitive reality superseding any shred of humanity. I see the same shade of nature-as-downfall falling to Wonder Woman as Amazonian. Yet we don’t even have to move out of the city for this monstering-of-being to overtake us when we know Godzilla shoots from ocean’s depths to announce itself. There’s so much to be untangled as each of these characters’ stories go beyond appearance, beyond the foreground, yet we do them the disservice of skimming the surface. The overpour felt almost unbearable as I unwrapped it. The stretch of that first line beyond the brink of normal sonnet length blinks to us for this reason.
Yet when the father gave her ape toys to play with because he
never wanted [her] to be alone, / never wanted [her] to go a day / without laughing or plotting, my breath caught a little at the irony of situating your child’s happiness with beasts after you’ve negatively linked them. What does it mean to control bodies that others purport are already yours? Likewise, the
despite your old Chinese beliefs / of girls hiding their warrior brains harkens back to Wonder Woman so seamlessly. These are the kinds of volta that make me want to believe in formal work because the value in using repetition to complicate the narrative is apparent.
Beyond that, the tonal register of teenage contempt-yet-expansive-humor feels just right:
I know you’re just looking out for me, / but my forehead has its own life, / like an invisible screen, —one-way glass / where the ad men are watching the women / try on lipstick, but in my forehead / it’s the other way around, because let’s let / the boys play, and the girls watch for once. I love that the forehead get its own subversive gaze that goes beyond anything the father could have imagined for it. The speaker moves beyond being just an object in this maze of attraction-politics to an active participant in questioning & acknowledging her own beauty. I sighed in joy at her checking off the forehead as her favorite. I hope you will too.