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.