At night, I plait Lila’s hair,
wet and the color of damp earth
here in the Sangre de Christos.
In the morning, as she combs it out,
Botticelli’s Venus rises, and Flora
steps out from her wall in Pompeii.

Where does it come from, this pheomelanin -- 
source of my granddaughter’s Pre-Raphaelite glory?
We review family histories, find
chestnut, walnut and honey, even
one strawberry, but no copper or auburn
gleams through our memories.  

My husband’s science books say
recessive genes for red hair
can hide in our sixteenth chromosomes
awaiting their mates for countless
generations.  And with pride
of authorship, he points to an altar boy
father from Cork, half-Scottish mother.

But I, from an older race, claim
glints of red in my father’s sideburns
and a faint auburn haze in polaroids
of my four year old self as evidence
of distant descent from the House of Jesse—
children of children of David, 
ruddy and beautiful of countenance.

A professional writer for most of her adult life, Joan Roberta Ryan is now an emerging poet in Taos, New Mexico. Her recent works have appeared in Nimrod, Spillways, Naugatuck River Review, Atlanta Review, Ekphrasis, Roanoke Review, Calyx, Cold Mountain Review, Off The Coast, Euphony, Concho River Review, Cape Rock and other venues.  Her collection, Dark Ladies and Other Avatars, is forthcoming in 2016.