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by Dasha Kelly Hamilton


The lunchroom vibrated its regular din. I was a freshman. Goofy, but played sports. Honors classes, but knew the lyrics to Run-DMC –okay, most of them– and had some dance moves. He was a senior with more work hours than classes, pressed slacks with dress shoes, and ALL the dance moves. I’d witnessed his poplock devour boys from K’town. Sniffling, I balanced my lunch tray, waiting. He emerged in an apron, hair net, maroon shoes gleaming. As planned, I lowered my tray, met his eyes. Unplanned, the slick escaping my right nostril. Fleeing became my new dance move.


Her loose leaf weighed heavy with penmanship. She wasn’t nervous, just exposing nerve. We’re at the end of my Name writing workshop, one of my favorites. “Look at me now,” she read aloud. I had been. Throughout the session, my eyes had been climbing the scarred scaffolding on her forearm. Red slices into her skin, ancient and fresh. “My name means star in the sky,” she continued, “but look at me now.” She mocked the ambition of her name. Owned her tumble from the heavens. She has negotiated a definition of herself in pounds of tender flesh. Indeed, we are looking. She still refracts starlight.


We were 13. Alignment enough to be sent outside while our parents drained their dregs of conversation. I’d asked about her books. She’d asked about my friends. I didn’t have many so I told her, instead, about a near catastrophe. Her brows furrowed. “Wasn’t that an episode of ‘Good Times?'” How…? My mouth melted, slid from my face. I’d just finished my first year of busing. It felt impossible that those new classmates might have stayed tuned once their TV screens filled with faces like mine. I wriggled from my fib. She was soon in the backseat of their car waving goodbye. I hadn’t even noticed her unicorn horn until then.


We are coasting the sidewalks, laughing, when my steps halt. My daughter turns, stops. Pity and a snicker on her smile. I’m maneuvering sidewalk seams. She knows I avoid grates and covers because I fell through a manhole as a girl. Actually, half of me dropped in. The concrete snarled at my thighs and privates. Seeing me, Mama and our neighbor leapt into action. Both the fizz of peroxide and extra pair of eyes felt awkward. Back in stride, I remind my daughter’s smirking eyes that we all have A Thing. She shakes her head, says I won’t fall in. I tell her I know. Mostly.


My grandmother didn’t sew in my lifetime, but I’d seen photos and the bin of McCall’s patterns. By my tenth summer, I had an efficient, but aimless, running stitch. Grandma had a sewing machine that recessed into a desk. We couldn’t touch the machine. Allowed to explore desk drawers. I discovered elastic that summer. The straps snapped my running stitch, evolving my technique to rows of tangled knots. In victory, a halter top was taking shape in my hands. I woke early with Grandma to spend the day at the store. Collected more curious eyebrows than compliments. On the ride home, Grandma told me all about hems.


The desks, arranged into one rectangle, were empty of other fourth graders. Just my teacher and me sitting on one of the long ends. I’d never struggled with school before. Never stayed after for help. Math –fractions, in particular– had decided to hate me. The F on my report card had been so foreign. Vulgar, even. My teacher held the edge of my worksheet for a week as I grated the eraser across my mistakes. So many. I would pucker my lips to blow away the erasures, only mastering a slobbery sputter of tears. Drawing in thin, quivering breaths, I would lift my pencil every day and hate Math right back.


Burial pods. The word pairing, alone, catapults me into an internet wormhole. Excitedly, I instruct my daughter that, upon my death, she’s to make me a tree. We hadn’t even cleared the school parking lot, heading home from track practice. Her face curls into a question, then she turns, already bemused. I described the enterprise of burying my shell in a seeded sac. An ease on the earth, on expense, on sorrow. She pulls out her phone and we sink together, link after link. Capitalism of caskets. Caste traditions in burials. But she was less receptive to funeral icebreaker games.

My friend, creative change agent Dasha Kelly Hamilton, is a writer, facilitator, curator, speaker and artist. And Milwaukee’s Poet Laureate. And founder of Still Waters Collective. And co-owner of The Retreat, and…I could go on for awhile, but you can check her out for yourself: Her DashNettes—a collective of memories and moments each only 100 words long—are far shorter than her resume, but like Dasha herself, they’re spicy and brave, and crafted with beauty and purpose.

1 Comment

  1. Glad you had a happy weekend. Thanks for commenting.

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