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Poem: "Coils and Brass" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Coils and Brass"

This poem came from the September 4, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from siege and wyld_dandelyon.  It also fills the "clean" square on my Cottoncandy_bingo card.  It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  This poem belongs to The Steamsmith series, and you can explore that further on the Serial Poetry page.

Read about bantu knotsAfro-textured hair comes with a lot of political baggage, but the styling can serve as female bonding.  This is the British spellchecker that I used.




Coils and Brass


When Maryam is a little girl,
her mother washes her hair
and carefully twines the springy curls
into snug knots all over her head.

"These are bantu knots,"
Sarah explains.
"Our ancestors in Africa wore them.
The queens there put up their hair
in rings of pure gold."

Maryam looks at her mother's hands,
so much darker than her own.
"What about our British ancestors?"
Maryam asks.
"Your British ancestors,"
Sarah says, "wore hairpins of gold 
and put up their hair in French twists."

Maryam grows up between worlds --
between Africa and Britain,
between black and white,
between servant and nobility.
She is as much boyish as girlish,
as much deviltry as duty.

Maryam learns what the world expects of her
and decides what she will deliver.
She learns about Queen and country,
studies alchemy and politics,
dances between rights and responsibilities.

She learns why her parents are not married --
the tragedy of her father's lost wife,
the grace of her mother's comfort,
their choice not to change who they are
for anyone else's expectations.
Maryam learns to be herself,
first and last and always.

When Maryam is a young woman,
she comes home to visit as often as she can.
Then her mother washes her hair
until it squeaks through the rosewood comb,
twists the dark curls into bantu knots
and fastens them with little brass rings.

"Why choose brass?"
Sarah asks Maryam the first time.
"Brass as in money, brass as in courage,"
Maryam replies.  "Brass and not gold
because I am a steamsmith and not a queen.
Brass rings that I took from an old engine
and polished to a shine again."

Sarah laughs, deep belling notes
that Maryam remembers from her childhood.
"You got brass, all right," Sarah says,
running her fingers over the rings and the knots.
Maryam's hair is never all one thing or the other:
the story of her life.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: technoshaman Date: September 7th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Like this a lot. So many things here....
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2012 07:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm glad to hear that.
paka From: paka Date: September 7th, 2012 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for handing me some language! I'd seen bantu knots, obviously, and since they are visually dynamic I thought they were badass and even drew some - but I never previously knew what they were called.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>>Thank you for handing me some language!<<

Part of the fun in writing about such diverse topics is getting to introduce my audience to new ideas, vocabulary, etc. That always makes me happy.

>> I'd seen bantu knots, obviously, and since they are visually dynamic I thought they were badass and even drew some <<

Good for you! I like seeing a wider range of styles represented in art. The African knots and braids are so beautiful. That's worth encouraging. You can find lots of lovely photos online, too, if you want art references.

>> but I never previously knew what they were called.<<

"Bantu knots" was the first term I encountered. They are also called "zulu knots" and various other names.
From: ext_2315078 Date: December 16th, 2013 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is beautiful.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 16th, 2013 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I have a thing for ethnic hair, and for hair-tending as a means of nonsexual intimacy.
6 comments or Leave a comment