Three men stand feet apart outside the barber shop early Saturday morning, turning their heads occasionally to peer through plate glass into the darkened room. The oldest says he thinks she changed her hours and the man behind him says there’s no such thing as that. The barber pulls up in a spanking new mustang, plates that read rideapony. She’s in her late sixties, has been cutting hair since she was a teen, still gives shaves with a straight razor. Nights, she sweeps the hair into neat piles with a yellow-handled broom, the corner tv on, her mother at home waiting with a hot dinner and the crossword puzzle she solved that day.
My Brother, The Census Taker
On the doorstep of the first house are faded fliers: an arborist who’ll trim your trees for a song, gutter guards guaranteed for life, mouth-watering pizzas delivered hot to your door. I’m here to get it right, Clark thinks as he rifles though a hefty bag of forms. Like Telemachus, he’s gone out searching for hard facts, not ones about our wandering father even though, that's what he also did. My brother’s out to get people counted and some of his destinations are equally dangerous and filled with stories of deception. In the first rowhouse, Penelope is unraveling the shroud she wove that day. In another is a mother who no longer wants to have to do that job. When there’s no answer at the fourth address, he imagines changing the questions on the form because he really just wants to help heal this ruptured world. Do you have a nickname? What kind of bird are you? Can I offer you some peace?
Words for Longing
Last winter a walrus fell asleep on an iceberg in the Arctic Circle and woke up to find himself in Ireland. The first to spot him was a five-year old girl who did not for one moment judge his heedlessness. She’s done it herself. Sometimes she’s in the backseat eating soda bread, and the next place she finds herself is in her very own bed, hunk of dough half-eaten in her fist. Over the car radio she learns That her walrus has been causing quite a stir, capsized a dinghy when he tried to climb Aboard. And that drew swarms of tourists over the Easter holiday. There is so much she knows but cannot name. Outside the window are all the words for longing. And fear. Like what how the walrus will make his way home- if that’s something he even really wants to do.
Charlotte Matthews is author of four poetry collections. Her work has recently appeared in Rattle, Chautauqua, and The American Poetry Reviews. She teaches at The University of Virginia.