R. Michael Oliver
MY LAST BARBER
As a boy,
the corridor to the barber smelled of piss,
cheap shaving cream and overflowing toilets--
curses echoed along the spackled walls--
we interrupted the vigil
of mop and jawing; the guard squinted
his displeasure, but not so my father could see.
I thought it normal to listen to shoes following me.
I sat in the barber's chair:
his scissors clipping too much hair,
his comb clumping too many clippings
into the black gown's creases:
the barber never spoke--
to me--as he sculpted my brutish head;
he spoke to my father; about family,
his love of fly-fishing, of square-dancing,
long blackjack nights and drink--
in the past, he assured him,
the darkened room his wife hid
in when fights blackened her eyes--
his parole, he craved
like a shot of whiskey, he'd earned
he thought after shoveling shit
from heavenly stables.
He wanted to know
if his sentence would end come August--
a free man, like a slave bought
and paid for with a mule.
My father wouldn't say,
the crickets that counted time
in the basement wouldn't say,
the shadow lurking beyond
my sight wouldn't say,
(thirteen and not ready to die)
wouldn't have said until those
sheers had cut their final hair.
He was my last barber--
thirty-two years, four months,
and a day. I have no Samson
brooding in my chest, no John
the Baptist fearful of dancers:
I crop my own hair--
late at night, after the children
have gone to asleep, and my wife
conceived of men whose mops cut
a life less guarded.
I watch over them
like my father did me
when the barber shaped
my mane with a slash.
R. Michael Oliver is a long time poet, playwright, theatre artist, and educator. He lives in Washington, DC and is currently the director of The Performing Knowledge Project, a new initiative of The Sanctuary Theatre, which he and his wife founded in 1984.