Sunday, July 31, 2011

`On the Flat of My Temples As Proud As a Wreath'

Having found a reliable barber, my move to Houston is now official. One is permitted a few vanities of the misdemeanor sort, I tell myself, and I like a good haircut. The barbers to avoid are butchers and artistes, the indifferent and wayward, and they are legion. Meeting a barber for the first time is like asking a girl for a dance. You worry less about being rejected than being accepted and regretting it.

My boss suggested a new place in her neighborhood. She noticed the sign by the curb and an older woman going in and out. The shop, once a florist’s, is in a private residence, though Houston has no zoning laws and you can open a brothel beside a day-care center. The barber is the older woman’s son, just returned from an extended detour to San Francisco. Born in Akron, Ohio, “home of rubber and AA,” he’s lived most of his life in Texas. He asked a few questions (“Sideburns?”) and got busy.
No ferns or pictures of male models on the walls. No wine bar or pedicurist, though I missed the old magazines and the scent of witch hazel and talc (lingering childhood memories). With a good barber one builds a relationship at once intimate and formal. You come to trust his haircutting skills, his jokes and easy gift of gab.
“Haircut” is from Karl Shapiro’s first book, Person, Place, and Thing (1942):
“O wonderful nonsense of lotions of Lucky Tiger,
Of savory soaps and oils of bottle-bright green,
The gold of liqueurs, the unguents of Newark and Niger,
Powders and balms and waters washing me clean; 

“In mirrors of marble and silver I see us forever
Increasing, decreasing the puzzles of luminous spaces
As I turn, am revolved and am pumped in the air on a lever,
With the backs of my heads in chorus with all of my faces. 

“Scissors and comb are mowing my hair into neatness,
Now pruning my ears, now smoothing my neck like a plain;
In the harvest of hair and the chaff of powdery sweetness
My snow-covered slopes grow dark with the wooly rain. 

“And the little boy cries, for it hurts to sever the curl,
And we too are quietly bleating to park with our coat.
Does the barber want blood in a dish? I am weak as a girl,
I desire my pendants, the fatherly chin of a goat. 

“I desire the pants of a bear, the nap of a monkey
Which trousers of friction have blighted down to my skin.
I am bare as a tusk, as jacketed up as a flunkey,
With the chest of a moth-eaten camel growing within. 

“But in death we shall flourish, you summer-dark leaves of my head,
While the flesh of the jaw ebbs away from the shores of my teeth;
You shall cover my sockets and soften the boards of my bed
And lie on the flat of my temples as proud as a wreath.”

1 comment:

Fran Manushkin said...

What an amazing poem! Thank you! And here's to many happy Houston haircuts, Patrick.