by James Cihlar
Driving one summer in another neighborhood, when I was not well, I parked in front of a barbershop on a busy thoroughfare; the stripes on the pole in front were streaming their inexorable slide upward. Behind wavy plate glass an old barber stood dressed in white, holding shears open in an accidental victory sign. Nothing made me scream more as a kid than going to the barber. The clipper’s buzz in my ear was a roar violating my shell. I twisted and cried in the chair until the buzz cut ended.
As I walked into this barbershop, the old man said to me, “Well, you’re back. Do you want the same cut as last time?”
“I’ve never been here before,” I said.
“Sure you were. I cut your hair just a month ago.”
“That wasn’t me,” I said. I wondered what he saw when he looked at my body. I pictured someone tall and rangy with a distracted air, perhaps in dungarees and a plaid shirt, wearing horn rims, even though that’s nothing I think I am. The old barber took some convincing, but eventually he conceded that I was not the man who looked like me.
“How’s business?” I asked.
“We’re at a crossroads,” he said. “So many things are changing.” He told me about the local boondoggle—the city council permitting developers to buy up old buildings like his, raze them, and put in new constructions that stayed vacant.
“Are you sure you’re not you?” he asked again. “I see you around the neighborhood.”
An image can take the place of a name, I thought. How would I know what I look like from the outside when I have always been on the inside? For all intents and purposes, my head is the same shape as my house. I used to tap on my forehead and think of the bone beneath as permanent, then remembered it is fragile and thin, as if with force my fingers could dip right in and loosen up the pain of a headache or dislodge a worry.
I didn’t want to see my image in the mirror. The old barber clipped away with assurance—the quiet click of scissors almost a comfort. When he was done, I ran my hand from back to front. It felt good. I looked, then, and my hair was different—gold and bristly like an aura. It was the best cut I’d ever gotten. He had given me what I did not know I wanted. He had made me look like someone else who looks like me.
One cold winter years later, now recovered, I drove down that thoroughfare again and saw skeletons of condominium complexes and rentals arising from the grave. I thought then of the old barber and his barbershop, replaced by something else that will someday be replaced by something else.
James Cihlar is the author of the poetry books Rancho Nostalgia and Undoing, and the chapbooks A Conversation with My Imaginary Daughter and Metaphysical Bailout. His writing has been published in The American Poetry Review, The Threepenny Review, Court Green, Smartish Pace, The Rumpus, Lambda Literary Review, and Forklift, Ohio. He has received two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner.
SLAG GLASS CITY • Volume 1 • March 2015
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