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My Father’s Comb

by Michael Waters

When my mother insisted
  That I take something,
     His 5” aluminum Life-Time

Already outlined my back pocket—
  The comb I’d watched him ply
     How many thousand mornings

To rake his hair straight back
  While I waited my turn
     Before the bathroom mirror.

I wielded a 39¢ Ace hard rubber
  With a dab of Brylcreem
     To slick my mop before school,

But for years now I’ve run his comb,
  As he did, under the cold-water tap,
    Then dragged across my scalp

Only the shorter tines
  Of the guillotine-shaped
    Tool of vanity & work ethic.

Please take something, she’d said,
  My father three days dead, but
    I’d already nabbed the one object

I knew I’d touch each day
  In such casual ritual
    To comb the grief away.

Writing “My Father’s Comb” was a more formal ritual than the one described in the poem. The staggered lines in each tercet may suggest the diminishing length of tines along the “guillotine-shaped” comb. My father died thirty years ago. The plaque above his cremains in the veteran’s cemetery in Florida reads “He was a good guy.” I still use his comb on my thinning hair.

Michael Waters has published thirteen books of poetry, most recently Caw, The Dean of Discipline, and Celestial Joyride. His next book, Sinnerman (Etruscan Press), will appear in 2023. He has co-edited several anthologies, including Border Lines: Poems of Migration, Reel Verse: Poems About the Movies, Contemporary American Poetry, and Perfect in Their Art: Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali. His poems have appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Kenyon Review, and Rolling Stone. He is the recipient of five Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright Foundation, and New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Waters lives without a cell phone in Ocean, New Jersey.