Andy Powell

 The Metaphor of a Clean Shave

I’m in dad’s bathroom, downstairs,
of course, messier
than any other part of the house
in that gendered babyboomer sort of way,
slathering my thickish, reddish beard
with soft, fun froth,
using his badger hair shaving brush –
his only vestige aside from the tin of shoe polish
from the old days, these days
you’ll mostly find new bike shorts
and electrolyte tablets on his receipts –
and I turn out the itch from my face
like a bad child from the dinner table
and lift the tough chin patches
like the dark spots on a peach with a knife,
which is a Gillette Mach 3 in this allegory.
The objects in the room are charged:
a standard amber pill bottle faces the mirror
but I know it is Lipitor and I see the number of refills
is infinite and the future is a hungry bear
I will be consumed by, in known ways,
and the ceramic cup with the shaving soap in it
is, dearly, the same old one with a nautical blue circle
with a nautical blue scene painted inside the circle,
most nautical things in Mystic mixing beauty
and privilege in an awkward often awful chowder,
the hair brush that has been smushed
from hundreds of morning runs
through dad’s persistent hair, which I didn’t get
to be a part of, have never used a brush.

A Dickman brother, Michael, I believe
already wrote a poem about shaving with his mother’s
razor, which is a more interesting conceit,
but here we are, downstairs,
and, originally, in a story I couldn’t write,
I had imagined a party
upstairs while I hid and shaved
and hoped that clearing a forest
would tie up all the loose ends,
there are so many feelings about family –
it was a family party for nana’s birthday,
which was wishful thinking in the first place,
nana hasn’t gone more than 1,000 feet
from her room in a long time, though she has
a whole world wherever; you can’t get through
the nursing home without meeting her physical therapist
who she says you’re going to love
and who she says is going to love you
so when I meet her
I blush like the dickens.
And how can any of us not get a little sad
and punchy
when we realize Uncle Joey isn’t at the party,
hasn’t been here so many times he would have
helped diffuse a little family tension
with his jokes and beard and gentleness,
I’d never seen mom cry
before he died;
the party is already engulfing me,
so, back to the mirror for us.

When I look closely enough, the clean shave
isn’t terribly clean;
I can see a meadow growing where the forest
of my beard was cleared,
and the signs at the arboretum said meadows
are unstable communities,
but I try not to focus on that aspect,
rather on the fact that meadows are characterized
by grasses and grass-like species
often growing in the company of showy flowering species,
and I decide that sometimes we are the one
we want to be, and that at this family gathering
I want to be a grass-like species,
not quite grass, not sticking
around the party like I should, as host’s son,
but not sneaking off for too long, not
a flower, no, not right now, I will save my showy flowerness
for when I walk down the hill in the good dark,
past the lovely quiet brick library, alone
if we are set mid-’09 or before, wondering
if the library cat went home at night
with the librarian or stalked the bookcases
and slept on Proust, or Clifton, or Fanon,
or, if we are set later, the same wonderings with J,
and sometimes my little brother will join us
in the flowering
after everyone has left.

It’s good for the both of us the story
isn’t set at another member of my family’s house
because who wants to think about a drive
back on the suburban dark highway
full of stress-eaten pie, a little
bit of each, dear,
and cake and ice cream, a scoop
of chocolate and a scoop of blackberry, no
I don’t have the will to cut myself off
when all the damning legacy in the air
makes it hard even to walk out
the front door without making an excuse –
the stars are out, I need some fresh air,
there are other people’s cats I’d like to ponder. 

Andy Powell is a Teaching Artist for DreamYard, has poems out or forthcoming with Winter Tangerine, Half Mystic, Queen Mob's Teahouse, elsewhere, and is a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal.

JD Thornton