The safest bet is to let go of happiness:
unfasten its fingers, gently push it away.
The little one will follow, tugging
at your sleeve, with a toothy grin; offering
a bunch of flowers, or a handful of snow.
Then let her run, over your palms;
the warmth passes, draining into the cool.
Handled like this, she doesn't bite.
We live in that palm; empty: monks. Shave our heads
every two weeks. Our life is bare-skinned.
When the hair comes back, it’s tough and bristly,
turning steel-grey, then frosty, over the years.
But each shaving day, we come out, baby-
bald and open.
Reaching out and pawing space.
Of course, happiness still comes skipping by:
such as when Ian shows up – it's been five years,
and now he's balder than me – there’s that rush,
and happiness scampers in and loops around us
as we hug. We rap and joke, the way brothers do:
the last uncle’s died; the business is flat. And –
it's my niece's wedding. She's blond and pretty,
but wants my blessing. She knows the blood’s pull;
and that even a recluse, he can't say no.
The car is poised, expectant.
My sister-in-law, she's slouched in a chair
where the cancer and chemo have punched her.
With a few snaky wisps on her head, she glares:
'Los’ me 'air.' (She's French.) ‘It's getting fashionable',
I quip, as we spar with tight laughs. But next day,
she's up, with a wig on under a wide-brimmed hat;
and now she’s gone summery, with a flowering dress.
And my brother – he’s all brushed and groomed.
And when we get to the hall, so is everyone –
dresses, suits and matching ties – except me.
And the hair! Glossy skull-caps of it, silky chains.
I make eye contact and offer calm smiles,
and the tresses nod back, brushing over the skin.
Yes, mine used to do that: it was shoulder-length
in the ‘be here, now’ days of LSD – when
all we needed was peace, love, and a tie-dyed band.
‘Dropping-out’, they called it; while Ian worked hard,
and married Anne-Marie. Who disapproved.
Me, my hair. My off-the-track stance.
My wasted life.
What a joke!
We’re all wasted: sprouted as something fine,
to thicken, groom, be shaped and styled;
carefree growth is met with snips and shaves,
messy collapses – and eventual loss.
A sharp edge finds us; then all’s swept up.
The long drive home is quiet. A rainy night.
The stabbing lights of passing cars.
We're all talked out, feeling old; till Annie
sits up suddenly and pulls off her wig.
'Bloomin' 'ot!' she snaps. And, flickering
like a secret smile, there's that warmth again.
What gets me is how she rides on invisible wings;
how they span the darkness and make it tender.
OK, wasted life. OK, toast the bride.
OK onwards nowhere and endless scouring rain.
Here I am: pared down to the bone,
with love sawing away at my throat.