Salon

This poem is a powerful tribute to ritual and its meaning in our lives. It has a powerful and tender ending.

Salon                                                                                                  Robin Becker

 

Acolyte at the font, my mother

bends before basin and hose

where Jackie soaps her fine head,

adjusting pressure and temperature.

How many times has she

bared her throat, her clavicle,

beside the other old women?

How many times the regular

cleansing and surrender to the cold chair,

the sink, the detergents, the lights,

the slick of water down the nape?

Turbaned and ready,

she forgoes the tray of sliced bagels

and donuts, a small, private dignity.

 

Vivienne, the manicurist, dispels despair,

takes my mother’s old hands into her swift

hands and soaks them to soften

the cuticles before the rounding and shaping.

As they talk my mother attends

to the lifelong business of revealing

and withholding, careful to frame each story

while Vivienne lacquers each nail

and then inspects each slender finger,

rubbing my mother’s hands

with the fragrant, thin lotion,

each summarizing her week, each

condemning that which must be condemned,

each celebrating the manicure and the tip.

 

Sometimes in pain, sometimes broken

with grief in the parking lot,

my mother keeps her Friday appointment

time protected now by ritual and tradition.

 

The fine cotton of Michael’s white shirt

brushes against her cheek as they stare

into the mirror at one another.

Ennobled by his gaze, she accepts

her diminishment, she who knows herself

his favorite. In their cryptic language

they confide and converse, his hands busy

in her hair, her hands quiet in her lap.

Barrel-chested, Italian, a lover of opera,

he husbands his money and his lover, Ethan;

only with him may she discuss my lover and me,

and in this way intimacy takes the shape

of the afternoon she passes in the salon,

in the domain of perfect affection.

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