By Gladys Cardiff b. 1942 Gladys Cardiff
Bending, I bow my head
and lay my hands upon
her hair, combing, and think
how women do this for
each other. My daughter’s hair
curls against the comb,
wet and fragrant— orange
parings. Her face, downcast,
is quiet for one so young.

I take her place. Beneath
my mother’s hands I feel
the braids drawn up tight
as piano wires and singing,
vinegar-rinsed. Sitting
before the oven I hear
the orange coils tick
the early hour before school.

She combed her grandmother
Mathilda’s hair using
a comb made out of bone.
Mathilda rocked her oak wood
chair, her face downcast,
intent on tearing rags
in strips to braid a cotton
rug from bits of orange
and brown. A simple act
Preparing hair. Something
women do for each other,
plaiting the generations.

Gladys Cardiff, “Combing” from To Frighten a Storm. Copyright © 1976 by Gladys Cardiff. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: To Frighten a Storm (Copper Canyon Press, 1976)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Gladys Cardiff b. 1942

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Relationships, Family & Ancestors


A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, Gladys Cardiff was born in Browning, Montana, and grew up in Seattle, Washington. Her mother was of Irish and Welsh descent, her father a member of the Owl clan of the North Carolina Cherokee. Cardiff received an MFA from the University of Washington, where she studied with the poet Theodore Roethke, and a PhD in literature from Western Michigan University.
Cardiff’s collections of . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.