A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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The novelty intrigued at first —
A gray hair! Yanked it out. Examined.
Coarser than the brown. Crimpy. Like a pubic hair
That lost its spring, and way.
As they filled my temples, I thought, Distinguished.
I thought, Salt and pepper, but, little by little,
My temples were all salt,
My sideburns pillars of it. I thought, Old.
And then a good friend — who else? — said,
You’ve gone gray so fast!
I leaned forward like an old silverback
Gorilla, pressed my weight onto my knuckles.
Grunted. Slipped off into the jungle.
Went home and broke some pencils.
In front of the mirror, clear as a stream
Above the mist, I think, How vain I am.
I’m considering dyeing my hair. It’s summer;
If it’s a disaster, I won’t have to endure my students’
And colleagues’ undisguised contempt. I’ll stay inside
Until it grows out.
I decide to wait until I return
From seeing my dad in Florida.
When I pull into the parking lot
At the assisted-living home where he is dying,
A few old men are walking the perimeter, exercising,
Gray heads down, watching their steps,
One man smiling for no apparent reason.
I run my hand through my hair,
Check myself in the rearview. I think,
This is what happens. If you’re lucky.