Winter 2009 • Vol. XXXI No. 1 NonfictionJanuary 1, 2009 |

The Tribal Knot: Ties That Bind and Break Us

No living member of our family has ever seen it. Nor did Bessie or her siblings ever speak of such an object. But informants insist that an ancestral "hair picture" figured strongly in the violence that erupted outside the Wisconsin farmhouse in 1933. If their testimony is true, the weaving must have been an exquisite model of the form, for practitioners of the art report that straight, black hair creates the most striking designs. Hair like Bessie's and her siblings'. Hair from their grandparents and from their father, uncles and aunts, the eleven children of Mother and Father Mounts. Braided strands of rich, black hair from thirteen members of the tribe, each bearing its individual streak—chestnut, sable, lampblack, coal—yet coiled into one continuous loop. Double helix, coded chain. Hair of my ancestors, the tribal knot.   ▪ ▪ To read another's diary is to enter a private chamber. When the diarist is a sixteen-year-old girl, the trespass takes on ano

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Rebecca McClanahan
Rebecca McClanahan has published ten books of nonfiction, poetry, and writing instruction. Recipient of the Wood Prize from Poetry Magazine, a Pushcart Prize, and the Glasgow Award for nonfiction, McClanahan teaches in the MFA programs of Queens University–Charlotte and Ranier Writing Workshop. She was the 2015 writer in residence at Hollins University. 


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