Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

THE BARBER

The barber shaves all and only men who do not
shave themselves. Who shaves the barber?
—Bertrand Russell's paradox

I have been waiting so long . . . little pocks
of rust freckle the shanks of my best blades.
Who, after all, would be shaved by a barber
boasting foliage of such grotesque proportions,
dragging its damp, heavy life along sidewalks
and alley ways, doomed to this eternal algebra
of existence, these parallel universes
of paradox where bearded and beardless
co-exist simultaneously and separately
and my twin in his timeless moment stands
mirrored in the lather of despair, blade
scraping flesh forever barren? Between us:
nothing, a space infinite and infinitesimal,
the sunless, silent arctic zone of contradiction.
On my side Cretans always lie; on his,
the lies are always true. On my side, particles;
on his, waves. A life unimaginable, but a life.

My wife—anguished, disgusted—long since done
with making love to Sherwood Forest, amused
herself with knitting it into increasingly
bizarre shapes, single rope ladders at first,
then interconnected hair suits for a trio
of monkeys. She lives in Alexandria now
with a Greek financier, a balding man of pink,
pampered countenance who offered me thousands
to shave. He sympathized. He saw in me the fate
of the common world lugging its debts and losses
through the streets like a black beard of shame,
the clean face of prosperity ever disappearing
until the man disappears, a walking shadow,
a beard bearing a man, a man engulfed
in the chaos of his own flesh, his own hair.

The razor strops of fate hang uselessly
beside their cruel mirrors. Among the dazzle
of chrome embellishments, bottles of Wildroot
and cans of Rose Pomade cry, "Traitor!"
to my lank tresses, and old customers,
victims themselves of cut-rate solitudes
in downtown hotels, wander by with lowered eyes
and trembling hands. Shaggy children gawk
and scatter when they spy in the shop's
deep shadows a chair of hair, a breathing mound
multiplied infinitely in mirrors facing mirrors.

My only solace is a dream, a tonsorial fantasy
that more and more possesses me, of a world
in which the calculus of being demands that
barbers shave only men who shave themselves.
In it my twin and I stand handsomely behind
our chairs, he sporting a small goatee,
my nude visage chaste as an egg, immaculately
conceived, saintly in its pure nakedness,
and an entire cosmos of the newly shaven,
redolent with lotions but somehow needing
our final caresses and fleshly blessings,
lines the boulevard. The sun is shining.
The brick streets glow richly. And beside me
my wife prepares the secret oils of anointment
and reaches up to stroke my silken chin.

b. h.   f a i r c h i l d
c l a r e m o n t ,   c a l i f o r n i a


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