Poet Samar Abulhassan on a historic beauty salon in Seattle’s Central District

Poet Samar Abulhassan on a historic beauty salon in Seattle’s Central District

Each day during the month of April, KUOW is highlighting the work of Seattle-based poets for National Poetry Month. In this series curated by Seattle Civic Poet and Ten Thousand Things host Shin Yu Pai, you’ll find a selection of poems for the mind, heart, senses, and soul.

In “Sacred Bowl”, Samar Abulhassan contemplates the living history of the the DeCharlene Salon, a Black-owned shop with more than 50 years of being in business within Seattle’s Central District. During the pandemic, the rapport that Abulhassan established with the granddaughter of the salon’s original owner helped her to feel connected to others and herself.

Samar is a poet and teaching artist living in Seattle. She’s a Hedgebrook alum, Jack Straw Writer and holds an MFA from Colorado State University. She’s worked with Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools since 2008, and for Hugo House’s Scribes program and the Skagit River Poetry Foundation since 2010.

Sacred Bowl, Central District

Begin at the shampoo bowl at the beauty salon on Madison. But begin skyward, so
language rolls back and forth through a soft, spray hose. Many sounds in time turn
oceanic: ceiling fan revolutions nod to bodies in motion, to blown out lightbulbs which
sit close to the motor. Crystal holds my head at the bowl in a pre-language state. Rivers
of lather pool and spread. The chairs around us gleam with an empty fullness. Her
grandmother, a single woman of color, a neighborhood pioneer who ran for mayor, ran
this building for half a century before passing away a few years ago. I close my eyes
during this ritual, the length of a song. My middle ears which tend to over-full become
suddenly sensitive, brimming with memory. The sides of my head frame a book with a
playground at dusk: I’m swinging , pumping my legs to touch the feeling of tree’s
pinnacle. For many months, salons and swings were invisible or crossed out by caution
tape. Even now, a trace of danger encircles this meeting. Memories are full of surface
dirt circling the tilted porcelain bowl. Crystal kneads my scalp, jarring awake the top of
my head. Her fingertips are padded with music and story. “That’s when I became
Grandma Crystal,” she offers of her experience as a teen, twin brushes with death that
led to catapult. Our speech effervesces underwater, fusing with the scent of rosemary
mint conditioner. I’m dizzy, and slow down the swing set in my mind. Chains hung still
at night and shook gently until they were clipped. Towels are re-tucked in under my
neck. After poem’s potential energy floods with unsure breathing, swung high too fast,
wood chips offer a soft landing. At night salons stayed lit but ancestors swept in. The
speaking body, is mosaic, sheen. Phrases pop through wide-toothed combs. I trace
words like water beads.