by Samina Hadi-Tabassum
My brother Deep stands before a mirror in my bedroom,
his long black hair dripping water onto the wooden floor.
Watching him comb the tangles with a plastic comb,
I laugh as I pull the knots out with my tiny fingers.
With a warm bottle of coconut oil, my mother came next,
kneading deep into his scalp with long tapered fingers.
Jumping on top of my bed I watch him standing firmly there,
coiling the long rope of hair patiently into the white patka cloth,
Twisting and turning, torque motion, winding around and around
until the coil comes to a rest, caught in a tight knot with a string.
Then the flat square of the red turban, looping bands in rhythmic motion,
climbs stairs of layered cotton, cutting corners with binding ties,
Tying from front to back, front to back, crossing over the patka on the top.
Holding the bands in his mouth, higher then lower to cover his ears,
he tucks the folds so it sits tight, pulling in loose ends in the back:
a red fortress sitting and waiting for the last bit of cloth to cap the crown.
My brother Deep stands before me at my mother’s funeral,
his short-cropped hair peppered in white, my coil bound in gray.
My uncle hands him the yellow bandana while walking into the gurdwara,
reminding us to wash our feet before climbing the temple’s marble steps.
Upstairs the women greet me with an embrace, whispering Waheguru in my ears.
The turbaned uncles and grandfathers sing along with their shorn American sons.
songs of the Guru Granth Sahaib, passages from a scripture I no longer know
bring peace into my heart, for my mother, the detached words divine love,
hymns, prayers and verses for solace. My mother would whisper to me
in moments like these when we drift apart, when we struggle to become one again.