Locks

by Esteban Rodriguez

Like the fading adhesiveness of an overused
stamp, the afternoon heat distances itself
from summer, from the calendar of humidity
the downtown trees have slowly matured from,
changing their leaves into shriveled shades
of orange, brown. Their foliage scatters
between the rows of parking meters, lampposts,
double-parked cars, beneath the barbershop window’s
faint, fluorescent sign, where debris flares up
at the pair of poles weathered of their stripes,
of the chance to warp my eyes into infinity,
as we shuffle in, and I begin to scan the line
of seated faces too old with conversation to return
a stare, too retired on the daily craft of speech
to shift their focus, lift or readjust themselves,
crank their wrinkled necks from the sculpted sea
of foam; their lathered lives centered
on an oval frame of mirrors.

Not even the younger, hunched over barbers
look up, shout more than a soft “Come in”
as we slide our way in, sit down, and my father
explains they’ve already signed me in on their mental list
of who’s next; their language of regulars extended
to us, reinforced with an echo of trust, then phased out
with the swift and shifting melody of shears,
the mechanical chorus of clippers plowing
through layered snowflakes of hair. A small
Christmas planted on each of their scalps,
sprinkled like polka dots around my father’s ears,
and parted with a combed sense of sophistication
still decades from rooting on my head, as I run
my fingers through the back of my neck, and feel
almost ashamed how my hair’s the longest
and least aged in this room.

But even if the stack of magazines tear
like papyrus, and that slow and ancient beat
of what I think is jazz seeps through the plastic
stereo, the ceiling fan air mimics the same sense
of localness back home, the notion that the world
can be reduced to the smallest space and the most
uncomplicated people, as the far end,
bald-headed barber waves me over, adjusts
and lowers his rusted, red swivel throne.

And as my father stands behind us, mutters
small-talk and directions I can’t make out,
I imagine my locks as wet ash falling to the ground,
a shrapnel of strands smudged like black blood
around my temples, mouth, while the barber’s hands
glide through the shy borders of my skull, shape
a palmful of cream around my jaw, aware
there’s nothing here but empty follicles
to shave off, and yet shaving at the steady pace
of his technique, as if pressing the cold blade
against my neck, my unpronounced cheeks,
is enough to make me acknowledge who I am,
or who I’ll be when he takes the blue cape off,
and like a moth shedding the cocoon from its wings,
gives me the space to shake what I no longer need;
my cross-hatched patches of rite buried
at my feet, swept with pieces of a boy
I knew I could no longer keep.



Read Esteban Rodriguez’s “Lemonade” and “Last Call”

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