The first time I was nine years old, I guess,
and Rosie was just six. While our parents
slept it off again, we sat in the kitchen
where one of them had dumped a drawer
onto the table’s sticky oil cloth:
rusty jar lids, frayed lottery stubs,
several snag-toothed combs, rubber bands,
a pair of scissors, a key, a sheaf
of gnawed pencils, grimy Christmas ribbons,
old postcards, lighters, moldy spools of thread.
Whatever it meant was more than I could bear.
Funny, I forgot this till you asked.
Rosie’s little hands paced the tabletop,
like cautious sentinels guarding the
incoherent landscape of our lives.
I thought of the untarnished moon.
I wanted to get her out of there.
I wanted her to get me out.
Something big and dark filled me up
until I disappeared. Then
the astonished “O” of Rosie’s mouth,
her mirrored rage, dragged me back to earth.
I had cut off a lock of her hair, it seems.
We could not cry out.
I was not thinking of this later, many
years after we were separated, after
I was finally living alone when
I knew what I had to do to feel better
and bought the shears. I thought I was
invisible, but I wouldn’t be here,
would I, if I really was. I tell you,
every time I caught a woman and cut her hair
I felt like I was setting things right,
but I could never set them right enough.
Why did I do it? Well, I could.
It was so easy to slip up on them,
easy to grab and cut and walk away.
Even when the sidewalks were paved with ice,
they often wore high-heeled shoes
that set them weirdly dancing to turn
corners or cross streets.
They were unbearably vulnerable.
At night they floated through my dreams
like paper dolls, whole flocks of them,
in synchronous motion, hatless
even in winter, lest they muss their hair.
At lunchtime in the Public Garden
I watched them as they drank their coffee
and ate their sandwiches. God, I felt rich
waiting to see which one of them would stray.
One of them always did, you see.
You’d be amazed how fast and quiet it was,
how stunned they were when in one flashing
blow I held the trophy up for them to see.
Except for the last time when I got caught,
I always escaped in their loss for words.
Back at work for the rest of the afternoon,
I kept touching it in my pocket
just to make sure it was there.
You know, I feel really cheated when I see
women who have cropped their hair.
At home later, I was afraid my pleasure
made an audible hum as I rearranged
the glorious ranks of locks I kept
in the silk-bound case they took from me
when I came here. I hope I get it back.
I had no favorites, but couldn’t resist
a single stunning row of reds:
rust, copper, dull brass, and tarnished gold.
I never did with them those things they said.
Sometimes in fits of self-indulgence
I counted and recounted them
for long delicious hours, each lock of hair
recalling every look of shock
until a roomful of outraged women
recognized me for the man I was.
Do you think I’m crazy? Sometimes I think
I am. Locked in here at night, I crawl
beneath my cot and lie awake, listening
to the secret gears that turn the lurching world.
And behind the grinding noise of night I hear
an endless roar–as if a million people
were crying out in absolute alarm.
I’m not crazy. Everybody hears it.
They just pretend the world is silent, safe.
The only silence I have ever known
was the slack moment when my shears nicked clean
and left my treasure in my hand.
Do I hate women? That just is not so!
Women want me to steal their hair. They ask
for it! Otherwise, why let me see it?
Something else I remember now. My father
used to wrap my mother’s hair around his fist
and hold her dancing like a puppet
at arm’s length while he shouted at her
slut! and whore! and on like that.
I guess they were unhappy. They sure fought
like hell, while Rosie and I scurried
from corner to corner, no place small enough.
When our parents drank themselves to death,
we were carted off to drift from home
to foster home. The last time I saw Rosie,
she was sitting on a bench at Social Services,
and I was being dragged out the door,
furious in my helplessness.
God, she was a good little soldier.
I wonder where she’s been all these years.
She was still so small that her feet
didn’t even touch the floor.