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Kolesse practices taking up as little space in the world as possible, folding herself into impossible corners so as to not interfere with others' needs. photo by Elen Awalom

Kolesse practices taking up as little space in the world as possible, folding herself into impossible corners so as to not interfere with others’ expectations of who she is.
photo by Elen Awalom

“Mommy says I was born in Sin. I ask her when can we go back there. She says, ‘look around,’ that we ain’t never left. I climb into the big window seat to look outside at what must be Sin, but all I see is Old Buster, the carpenter. His mouth has holes where teeth should be. My grandmother laughs at something he says. She is rocking on the creaky porch swing that somehow stays together under her wide bottom pushing through the slats. Grandma tells me she ‘don’t want no mess’ from me when I go out there and ask them if they were born in Sin too. I hope the swing that Grandaddy carved don’t break ‘cuz he dead and won’t be able to make us no new one. I don’t say this out loud though.

I beg Mommy to show me where Sin is. She say I ain’t look hard enough, then mumbles something after she swallows the pink pill. Her words sound mashed up like she got rocks in her mouth. I want to give her a kiss, but she is already hiding under the covers again. I open her curtains. She sleeps all day and never goes outside. So it’s my job to ‘bring her some sun,’ Grandma says.

When I have to shuck the peas for dinner, and while Grandma has the slippery chicken in her hands, I ask her if I was really born in Sin. She say I was born at a place so close to Sin that it might as well be called that. I ask her if it’s far, and she just stamp on her swollen foot and wave slimy chicken innards in my face. Say she “don’t wanna hear no more about Sin,” and I betta be a good girl so I don’t have to go there no time soon. I still don’t understand. But I know to leave it alone for today. Ms. Sadie, Grandma’s neighbor probably knows where Sin is. I’ll ask her. After dinner I am sent to bed to wonder about Sin alone. And how come I could be born somewhere that don’t nobody wanna go.

The sounds I hear coming from Mommy’s room in the middle of the night are scary. Grandma has told me to never come down the hall. If I got to pee, use the pot. If I got to boo boo, hold it ’til morning. At night she takes care of my Mommy just fine by herself and I’d be in the way. Grandma says cover my ears so I don’t hear my mother swearing. But I never do. I like to listen to the noises. Grunts like a pig, squealing, moaning, banging, and then the singing. Always the same song from Grandma right before the house is all quiet again. I call these sounds the Night Song. And I listen for every part every night. Makes me feel like I’m part of her madness too.” ~~ Kolesse, at six years old, patterns her own identity and freedoms around the limitations of womanhood that she learns from her mother, Bessie, and her grandmother, Flora.

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