Cornrows

the day before they found her baby tucked
into the crawlspace beneath her home for safekeeping,
I sat on the floor in front of her:
knobbed bones of her knees dimpling my back
while she tugged my hair into cornrows,
racing stripes down my little girl skull.
I gnawed my nails to nothing
trying to keep silent with the ouch in my scalp.
sometimes it overflowed out of my mouth.
she laughed like the sound of a coke can cracking,
told me it shouldn’t hurt – she has a daughter,
and mothers understand gentleness.

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