Fall 2009 / Issues / Poetry 2009 / Volume 40

The Precision Haircut — Andrea Bates

He tells his barber to cut his hair like Steve McQueen:

A little off the top, longer on the sides. It’s been

one close shave after another —the jungles of Nicaragua

and a scar the length of his forearm. Some

Sandinista machete, he said, but the USMC medic stitched him.

Then the six incher vertical snake scarring his abdomen.

A claim of hypoglycemia and blackouts, not remembering

where he’d been, who he’d seen, even who he’d slept with.

How inconvenient it all was, he said not knowing

if what he had was a pancreatic tumor and an early death.

But he scraped by again, and the slice of flesh

biopsied benign. The gouge above the right eye? Tomcat

or Tomahawk depending on who’s listening, or Jaguar

or Slim Jim. You gotta give it to him: like any good spy,

he tailored his lies to fit his audience. He cut his hair

in homage to his hero, it gave him courage, he said,

to pretend he was Bandito, the King of Cool, Bullitt,

the last of the magnificent seven, a butterfly narrowly

eluding impalement on barbed wire.

I could take scissors to his hair myself, but he doesn’t

trust me. After what he’s done he knows his neck

is vulnerable. I am not that girl who believes love

means never having to say you’re sorry.

He’d better worry. When he comes home

this time he’ll find that the pillow he sleeps

on is really a knife, blade unsheathed, and ready to slice.

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