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When I Braid My Mother’s Hair

When I braid my mother’s hair she tells me about stories with her mother, telescoping through generations of care. I lace each piece of hair under and over. Under, over. Under like the overhead bin she sat beneath when she first immigrated here—

sheathed in fear. Over like the wonder that consumed her stomach while flying above that Ocean.

30 years later she remains my pilot acknowledged through silence. Do you copy? Over. When I braid my mother’s hair she takes off her glasses. I look at her eyes, a little tired.

Tired from the classes and masses she had to surpass just to be right here next to me.

I take each piece of hair from the right then left. Right, left.

Right when she tells me about the decision she made to leave my father—

like there is still some part of her asking for my justification. Left when I’m in the driver's seat in the left lane of the highway, driving a little too fast—

like there is still some part of me asking for her satisfaction. When I braid my mother’s hair she lets her worries of her son float in the air around us.

Like my mother, my brother immigrated from this family to somewhere—somewhere remote.

Unlike my mother, my brother took a boat.

He still has not made it to his destination, not that we know where that is,

not that he knows where that is.

I grab each piece and pull tighter and loosen my grip, pull and loosen. Pull, loosen. Pull when my brother is the one with his hands in my mother’s hair.

Loosen when I remember these are my hands, not my brother’s.

Pull when I need to eject from this plane heading nowhere.

Loosen when I’m ready to find my brother, but I realize he is not here. When I braid my mother's hair she apologizes for never braiding my hair. She tells me in school they all had mushroom cuts no one could bear,

so she never learned how to braid any hair.

For my mother, who allowed me to go to school here, this is the least I can share.

I take all of it together and wrap the band around the end.

Together and wrap. Together, wrap. Together makes me smile when she kisses my forward and calls me pumpkin—

even if her lips are dry as a prune.

Wrap when I have her arms around me and feel like even though she has gone

under and over,

right and left,

pull and loosen,

together and wrap,

even though she has gone through it all—

I can still be her little girl, here for her,

sitting at the center while I braid her hair amid life’s every curveball.


-Nicole Tooley

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