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Pfaffman, Phoebe, Jalilah


Phoebe Pfaffman
Age: 16, Grade: 11

School Name: Edward R Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Joe Elliot

Category: Poetry


I remember when it was time to play tag
They said Jalilah couldn’t play
I didn’t know why kids were so mean
Why to her?
Was it because she wore a hijab?
My favorite one she had was gray
With blue flowers and sequins
That swam over her head like crown
The ones she wore slipped on 
Instead of an individual scarf being wrapped around her head
She would pull it off when she walked into her room
Her hair was the longest hair I had ever seen
She always wore it tied up in a bun under her hijab
Sometimes in a braid
Jalilah tied her hair with scrunchies
Not hair ties
Once, we went to the dollar store in our neighborhood to get me a scrunchie
She told me that that’s where she buys them
The name of that store is 99 cent dreams
Big block letters with the 99 in red and
Dreams in light blue
I remember her telling me 
It was time to pray
I remember sitting quietly
On the heels of my feet
While she knelt on a golden red carpet
Her forehead kissing the ground
Her youngest sister Jawaheir
With eyes of a young angel
Who the family called “Jo”
Used to pick cockroaches off the wall and eat them
“No Jo!”
Jalilah would yell at her to stop but
She also thought it was funny
She had what i always thought of as a pretty laugh
Jalilah had  a scar on her forehead
From falling down a subway escalator when she was a toddler
I remember the Henna her mom used to make in a colorful plastic bowl
We got stencils of flowers and swirls 
And applied the paste over the stencil
You can’t touch it until its dry
Her oldest sister always put it on for us
Quickly placing a flower on the hands of her two younger sisters
So she could more carefully help us with ours
She had a baby
And lived in the room closest to the door with her husband
Next to where the laundry used to dry
I remember watching 1000 Ways To Die with Jalilah on her couch 
One where a man locked himself in a meat freezer
That was her favorite show
She could only wear real gold earrings because the fake ones gave her rashes 
And irritations on her earlobes
She had them pierced when she was a baby
Jalilah didn’t eat pork
Once, I handed her a piece of gum
She put it in her mouth and I told her that there was pork in it
She spit the gum back into her palm
I told her I was joking 
And she told me it wasn’t funny
I remember feeling guilty