Is Paul Okay?


Paul Tetreault would scarcely pretend to be a doctor.
The lively twirl of his pole
means only he’ll cut your hair or trim your beard.
But centuries ago,
barbers let blood and lanced boils. They even pulled teeth.

The pole’s red stood for the blood,
the white for bandages used to stanch its flow,
blue for its color inside.
Paul is getting close to 90 now:
I’ve known him half my life.

I’m suddenly aware that I’ve been lucky,
no, blessed to be his client
and friend. I guess I’ve imagined I’d always be,
no matter we’re not spring chickens.
If you live long enough you may look around and see

how some things never change:
the politicians can’t be kept from lying,
one group will find a way
to hate some other group of human beings,
people will die for absurdities—

How many fingers do you use to cross yourself?
What makes you think you can park there?
You and all your people are rapists and felons.
Don’t cross my property border–
I put that fucking wall there for a reason.

To make mortals get along is like pulling teeth.
Paul and I talk of little things:
pitching horse shoes, for instance, his greatest love
apart from the Red Sox. We linger
with pleasure over this sort of useless stuff.

It’s not surgery, but it’s healing.
I like the way Paul pulls the apron away
to keep shorn hair from falling
to my lap. It’s a studied gesture, dignified,
almost courtly. I’m trying

to account, I suppose, for the chilling apprehension
that seeped into my soul
just yesterday, when, stopping by for a haircut,
I didn’t see a twirl
in the pole, and inside, the shop was dark and vacant.

Sydney Lea, former Vermont poet laureate, will publish Here, his thirteenth collection, in September 2019.

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