R. Michael Oliver


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,

and I
(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.

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