Ilya Bolotowsky, In the Barber Shop, 1934, (Smithsonian American Art Museum)


Primed, a film of cream brushed into lather,
supple to thumb and to a five-edged Schick,
he arches for no pro barber his neck
to tame the bristles: his brother

knows that from the cheekbone to the temple
the dark patch is not birthmark, not there before
self-inflicted blows became feature.
I slide it aside, and glide blade down the stubble.

Once he was our father's spitting image,
papa who, younger then than I am now, stood
beside me when impatient for manhood
I raised to face a razor at sixteen. We've aged:

he's now our mother's father. Ghostly witnesses
coalesced, steam from the faucet rises.



To break so vast a Heart
Required a Blow as vast —
No Zephyr felled this Cedar straight —
’Twas undeserved Blast —

From a green plate, one square foot and studded,
brick on Duplo brick a high-rise scaled
to a blue penthouse floor snapped on red.

Fog hid the city. Our lurid tower
arced, a totem in relief: outside
across the bay the skyline loomed a blur.

Above the lapping sea, the turning tide,
below advancing clouds, hung my reverie:
a partnership of builder brother barons,
two grizzled would-be architects and masons.

Plastic to concrete: I willed an alchemy
beyond our smiles beside it for the selfie
before the climbing breakers first tossed breeze,
then a leveling gust through the balcony.



I walked along the Hudson River thinking
of autumn sundown, motion and stasis,
transport; across a mossy stream the cataract 
we waded to, through mist
your arm outstretched to torrent, I for safety,
as once on a squally beach, pulling you back.
I thought of Dante stuck in the ninth circle;
of the sunlit clubhouse pool,

you, fearless of pits and plunges,
buoyed by papa, splashing and laughing
to the deep. It seemed bottomless and
far. That was then, but I can see
your legs still driving you from my shallow end.
Finish the lap, brother, return to me

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Published in the March 2020 issue: View Contents
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