I am on the East Side of Columbus, Ohio. One street over from Lev’s Pawn Shop is an abandoned storefront where I met my ex-lover when we were in high school. He cuts hair now in a barbershop on…
I wanted to learn how to play chess. What I mean is, I wanted to learn how to win a war. I found myself in the pawn piece—one step at a time, paycheck to paycheck, apartment to apartment. Seductive as poverty is, and maybe always will be, it turns us cold. You have to be a certain kind of person to find the art of cashing in your treasure, especially while Black, when everything—even air—feels equivalent to a religious blessing. If we lose, surely, we gain, or at least that is the spirit science that keeps you going. Single motherhood landed me in a place of questioning survival ethics: How many times have I pawned something or someone? How often have I been used as a pawn—having known, or not known? Or had all my pawns taken? Or been captured? In Columbus, Ohio, I frequented a chess center to better understand the pawn in the game. The owner told me something very jarring, “A note of advice: Trying to philosophize your way through the game won’t work.” How many times had I philosophized my way out of major decisions?
To me, pawning is both criminal and comfort. My first lesson on currency was my own body in exchange for affection, and so pawning feels like a love, a familial transaction. It is like a religious concept I had grown to understand and, seemingly, become. Pawning is a poverty construct. It is also a world in and of itself, belonging to and built for those who might always be homeless. I come from this lost world. To live in Black communities, where pawning is a savage, sacrificial act, is to survive war casualties. Sometimes you misplan a check or need to use rent money toward your car note; or worse, you might just need someone to help you: isn’t it easier to take a loan from a stranger than your own family? Someone is there for us in the pawnshop, someone who won’t judge.
In my essay, I jump through systems, stories, and memories to recall what I lost, stole, or pawned. I blackout areas that feel creatively disruptive and necessary to see. There are secrets that I am both sharing and shielding from the reader for litigatory reasons. It creates a sense of mystery, but it also suggests a real-time problem. Children are often easy pawns for parents—parents who are fighting a bigger war than flesh, but an unwinnable war for peace. The thread is a thick, nasty current strung through a survivor’s mind. I am in love with the unruly nature of creative nonfiction. I needed a form that was not afraid to jump and miss. The setting is home, back in Ohio, where I am in many places, and I am also, no place at all. I wrote this disastrously unhinged from all literary legalism, which is to say I wrote this in restlessness and grief. Another story of a war against Black women, our minds, and all the things we lose when we fight alone.
STARR DAVIS is a writer and devoted mother whose works have been showcased in numerous literary platforms, including The Kenyon Review, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, The Rumpus, and Catapult. She has been awarded fellowships from The Luminary, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and PEN America. Starr serves as the creative nonfiction editor for TriQuarterly and also as a columnist for “Mama’s Writing” at Raising Mothers. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the City College of New York and a BA in journalism and creative writing from the University of Akron. Starr’s personal-political writing has garnered accolades and landed her reviews in Longreads’ “The Top 5 Longreads of the Week.” She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry and creative nonfiction, Best of the Net, and Best American Essays. Starr resides in Houston, Texas, where she actively advocates for justice and volunteers with organizations that empower women. Her first book of poetry, Affidavit, won the Hanging Loose Founders Award and is forthcoming from Hanging Loose Press in the fall of 2024. Find her on Twitter at @starrdavispoet.