We work over this job in my kitchen—
two women, one toddler. We are not bound by blood,
any of us, instead by this duty: braiding.
In this tableau, the hairdresser occupies the top of the frame,
hands deftly pulling sections of hair into cornrows,
smoothed into submission with coconut pomade.
I sit on the floor at my girl’s feet, supplicant.
I come to the table but cannot eat.
I am simply entertainment, reader of board books, unskilled.
My daughter occupies the space between us,
alternates between cooing and fussing,
hating and loving this new attention.
Black women do this for their own children,
my daughter’s hairdresser says. I know this is not a small thing,
this thing I do not do, a white woman raising a black child.
From outside, we look like we are wrestling over an idea,
a child pushed back and forth between us like an argument.
Not doing this is not a small thing.