Charlotte Matthews: 3 poems

Barbershop Quartet

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.


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