by Lowell Jaeger
Mom found it in the kitchen cupboards.
A little jewelry box felted black, gold
latch and trim. Dad’s mother had passed
and we were rummaging in the ruins
of the old farmhouse, packing
what might be worth something and burning the rest.
Inside the box lay one blonde curl
of perfumed hair. Whose, Mom asked,
whose? Dad shrugged and went on sorting
tubs of scrub rags, a steady rain
of dust floating in on sunbeams
through torn curtains and murky glass.
And smoke from the fire my brothers
tended outside. Mom smoldered
a lot of late, and Dad did his best
to keep out of her way. Must be important,
Mom said, if someone kept it all these years.
Dad squirmed like he’d snagged one foot
in a trap. He’d been promoted
from crew foreman to an office job.
He smelled like cologne in the mornings
instead of sawdust. Could be anyone’s hair.
Could be no one we know. Could be mine,
he said without turning to face her.
You were blonde? Mom said.
I think so, Dad answered. Both of them
hushed to hide from us whatever it was
ready to combust between them.
Something about office floozies filing invoices
too nearby. Dad lifted a wooden crate of kitchen tools
and escaped outside. Mom studied the box,
opening and closing, touching the lock of hair
as if she were testing it to come alive.