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A Man’s Life: About It

About It

The boy can’t look at himself in the barber’s
mirror, but there he is, and his face says
he’s all wrong. Oh for someone to say
otherwise, but the barber won’t and not
his father. Mother loves him but what
those two have together doesn’t carry
into the open air. The haircut’s all right
but it can’t change anything. Even
the barber’s all right but his own kids
are more than he can handle.

The boy grows through lots of haircuts.
Just when it feels okay to look at himself
he sees that it’s all a con, his face is his face
and so what? But a lingering smudge
in his soul says, not quite, try harder.
The boy thinks, Oh for the hero’s life,
slashing my way to glory—or
the devout’s, on his knees, appealing
to the heart’s desire that waits in heaven.

The heart’s desire. Lovers know it
for a moment, the princess and the prince,
while they’re fitting slippers.
The birds don’t have it but they don’t care,
and the trees the same, who sigh their way
through springtime and summer, then shed
what they must—no regrets.

Later, the boy loved a girl and they got married.
After a while, scratched by the usual thorns,
they forgot what love is, but late, though
the fire was banked, they remembered
in one another’s arms that love
is what we have. In the eyes’ mirror
they gave each other back, bedizened.

—Bert Stern H’62

from What I Got for a Dollar, used by permission of Grid Books