Behind the counter

in my father’s barber shop
I sold cigarettes and matches,
pouches of tobacco,

took money for haircuts
and gave out the proper change.
After every customer
I swept up,

watched my father
hone a blade on leather,
make small talk with a farmer
brush hairy residue
off thick, red necks.

I restacked pipes in sweeping arcs,
displayed Brylcreem to advantage,
answered the black telephone.

Did I want to be the woman
blowing smoke rings
in that poster on the wall?

In lieu of wages
I stole cigarettes and chewing gum.
My favourite brands
were Juicy Fruit and Marlboro.

Sometimes I dressed the window.
As I wound crepe paper
round a cardboard cylinder
to make a barber’s pole,
I made a vow:  I would never
work behind a counter
cut anybody’s hair except my own.

K A Nelson

Listen to Kerrie reading ‘Behind the counter’ (1:13).

© text and audio 2020