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Mar 142012
 

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.