Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
When I Do My Daughter’s Hair Something Inside Me Sings

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Dei-dei—a word we assumed was from the Gaoyang dialect of Cantonese, meaning nonbraided pigtails.

Rivers of black ink swirl through my
fingers as I brush my daughter’s hair. It’s
liquid and strong–in the right light
hints of red, bronze and midnight blue.
She came to us three years old,
barely a cap of hair fitting her head.
Grandmothers in China stopped us on the street,
asking, "boy or girl?" Her hair was
out of fashion in Guangzhou.
I had worn this style
years before. “A pixie cut,” my mother cooed,
as the barber snipped it shorter        and shorter yet
to remedy his miscalculations.
In those early days with our daughter, she saw
a photo of a girl in pigtails.
Dei-dei,” she said, pointing.
We learned a word from the
language she brought with her
over the Pacific.
Her haircut was a style of necessity.
Fifty children to feed and clothe.
Fifty children with one thousand nails to trim.
No time to braid or make dei-dei.
Now I brush her hair, long and lush. Running my
fingers through the thick black ribbons that cascade
down her back, I realize there’s nothing I’d rather
do than fix my seven-year-old
daughter’s hair, twisting strands into
braids, making dei-dei and ponies,
catching her long-grown-out bangs
in a band, making a spout of hair on top that dances
when she does.


Karen Loeb’s poem is looking back at an earlier experience with her daughter, who is now 19. Several of her poems about adoption appear as a group in the anthology Shifting Balance Sheets from Wising Up Press. Her story “The Walk to Makino” won the Wisconsin People and Ideas fiction contest in 2014. She has traveled and lived in Asia, while calling Wisconsin home since 1988.


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beautifully done!
Karen, What a powerful, evocative poem! I began to cry at the line "Now I brush . . ." The tears are still streaming down.
The sweetest images, Karen! Beautiful.
A wonderful poem. Telling an emotional story through brushing her child's hair into pony tails. Momma and child are so blessed to have each other.
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