Lauren Scharhag


Nasca Hair, Peru – the skull of a woman, possibly a priestess, with hair still attached, from approximately 200 BCE. The hair is 2.8 meters long. (Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of the UNT, Trujillo, Peru)

Over 9 feet of hair, it lies
in two long ropes,
turning and twisting in on itself
like the branches of a huarango tree.
Even now, the average height for women in Peru
is only 5’2”. Imagine having hair
almost twice as long as your body.
Priestess, what must your life have been
for you to sweep about
with such epic locks?
The heft of it! The heat of it!
And what a job it must have been
to wash. I wonder if you
had attendants to follow you around,
keeping your follicular train
from dragging along the floor,
or if you carried it yourself,
draped over your shoulders
like a stole? Or did you spend
all your time in the temple,
lost in the ecstasy
of mescaline cactus visions,
dancing with your killer whale
and spotted cat gods,
with your gods of fish
and peanuts, with the three sisters
crop avatars?

A climate of extremes
begets a culture of excess:
immense earthworks and plazas,
the famous lines scrawled
for miles across the desert
that were clearly meant
for gods’ eyes. So we can’t exactly
claim surprise to find such hair—
equally massive, equally deliberate.
These tresses suggest, too,
the puquios, stone spirals running
into the earth. In a time when water
and God were inextricable,
did you swim the aethereal channel,
bringing divinity back down to earth
to slake the thirst of the faithful?
O priestess of trepanation,
of cranial modification,
collector of trophy heads,
what strange phrenology
must you represent? With your language
of knotted strings, the natural argot
of weavers, your warp and weft
are equally indecipherable.

Are you the Nasca, the Andes?

Are you the Earth itself?

Eventually, despite your efforts,
drought took them all.

Now you’re housed
in the same museum,
(a temple of sorts),
beside the effigy of a woman
carved out of whale’s tooth.
It, too, has hair. Maybe you knew
that bone and hair persist,
that it would be the tether
between past and future,
between us and you,
the last echo of your magic.