Points of Memory by Esther Heller

Creative Nonfiction | Issue 25: Lost and Found

Esther Heller’s creative nonfiction piece “Points of Memory” threads together the available pieces of Esther’s mother’s life as a radical act of preservation and resistance to racism. Overlapping images of personal artifacts and news reports combine with poetry and prose “to vocalise a memory to understanding.” An excerpt of the piece’s beginning is included below. Read the full piece in SAND 25


My mother always knew that it was important to tell her story through writing, note-taking, doodles, oral stories. As a Kenyan woman living in Germany, she knew that she could not rely on history to plot her story for her without erasing all the points of history that she had touched. Most of the things that I know about my mother were told to me by other people.

Image of overlapping texts, which read as follows: "...Rememory as in recollecting and remembering as in reassembling the members of the body, the family, the population of the past...the stress of remembering, its inevitability, the changes for liberation that...lie within the process..."

My mother…a nurse, a Black woman working at the flea market, hair braider, postal worker, cook, dancer, party planner, an aspiring painter, a singer at weddings… 

Nakupenda Malaika
Nakupenda Malaika

When my mother was twelve years old she was adopted by a vacationing German couple—who saw her working as a hair braider on the beach.

She loved to dance and would often go out on her own. One of her friends, whom I call Uncle, told me once while we were dancing at a family gathering that my Mama could not be taken out of her element when she was dancing. Everyone in the club knew that. Those who did not would try to approach her, but the DJ would shake his head and say, Hey man you have no chance, she dances on her own.

She always made time to jot down notes, to document moments of her Black life. It was an act of self-preservation, a way for her to tell her story, and to pass it on to her children and others. Many of our Polaroids have notes scribbled on them, like one picture of my younger brother sitting beside a radio that reads My Son loves that Radio.

Image of a handwritten caption under a Polaroid photo reading "My Son loves that radio."

Her desire to document her life and our lives was important then as it is important now [she had to, she knew ] 
There is no data [she had to, she knew ] 
Katharina Oguntoye, May Ayim, Raja Lubinetzki, and others told their stories through poetry, art, traced history [they had to, they knew ]   

Continue reading the full piece in SAND 25.

Esther Heller (they/she) is a Kenyan-German poet, writer, and experimental filmmaker. They are a Barbican Young Poet 18/19, Obsidian Foundation fellow, and Ledbury Critic. She co-hosts a monthly radio show called Poetic Healing with Zen & Kondo on THF Radio Berlin and is currently doing an MFA in Poetry at Cornell University.