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.