Fortress of Care
A respectable, wood-panelled apartment-as-business barbershop, five-spice powder and spray-on gel, the backroom busy with old women baring their highlights
to the avocado-green hair dryers. Fake red finches in a fake tree, Cantonese radio, canaries calling on the rear patio. Bonsai halted in a weekend’s half-curtained noonlight.
Was I afraid? I was afraid of the five-foot photo of Marilyn Monroe enshrined above the washstand in the shop corner. Among the other kept things—
starfruit, Bibles, a silent clock turning in a glass dome—white porcelain dolls on the upstairs shelves rolled forget-me-not eyes at me when I lifted them
closer. Strange, sad clown over whose bare head we threw plastic hoops for a game while we waited. It moved with a secret logic it knew alone.
Nights, rafts of lights mapping the ocean in the back window.
Chance fables of Hong Kong in the ’50s, decoding the manufacturing labels: Montreal, Toronto,
San Francisco, Vancouver. Eastward lie good fortune and a future naming you grandparent, young and impatient on a floral brown couch.
Every time, I’d glower over the smock, despising my looks, this place, the mirrors reflecting our faces in dizzying hallways of descent, as my grandmother swept
our fallen hair, replaced it with chips and spearmint gum. Afterwards, feeling my head for the loss: like squinting for light in a sudden dark or reaching for a word
beyond recognition. Unhomely? Yes, and uncivil: idle citizens in a nation of forlorn objects, suffering strangers’ questions about our appearance. Our faces
confused opposing cardinals like compasses that refused reading. Always, a fear of curiosity, false welcome, a suspicion of rejection during our entrances.
Did we belong? We were related.
A lineage of exits and arrivals, patriots of a barber’s chair, a small country we’d visit and abandon in the tradition of our elders.