Hair Cutting
A (Mostly Unspoken) Conversation at a Salon on Newbury Street
by Mary Buchinger

Voice I

Sonje, the Albanian stylist, picks through my hair, deep in thought.
I tell her what I’ve heard all my life about my hair: fine, but lots of it.
She looks straight at me in the mirror, her face severe, No. Your hair
is coarse and wiry, almost all grey now, but, okay, you have a lot of it.
I never argue with a hair stylist. Handing her my Groupon
I say I need a cut that requires no work from me, just wash and go.
She says, No. Every woman must do more.
Snapping her fingers, Christina! Shampoo.

Dripping, I sip salon cappuccino as Sonje suggests lengths.
I say I’ve been told, I can’t do bangs. She replies, You can do anything.
I ask how old she was when she came from Albania. She stops cutting.
It was seven years ago, I wasn’t old, I wasn’t young. Hair can be trained.      You pull it,
she grabs a sheaf of my hair, makes a ponytail, it grows in the direction      you pull.
Every surface in this salon gleams black. On the other side, party      laughter
rings out, the kind of extravagant chatter that makes me feel so out of      place.
I tell Sonje my husband once had checked out every Boston library book
on Albania; so you know something about it, she says.

Your hair, she holds my eyes steady in the mirror, your hair will do      anything you want.
You have easy hair. I say, it must have been difficult to leave, there must      not be many
Albanians here. She says, Too many. Too, too many Albanians in Boston. I      want to tell her
about this novel I’d read, Enver Hoxha, the cruel dictator, conscripts a      dentist
who looks like him to act as his double; when the regime falls, the dentist      tries
to destroy his own face. I want to tell her I don’t have the will to train my      hair.
But she reaches for her brushes, switches on her blow dryer and      demonstrates,
shows off, even, the utter easiness of hair.

Voice II

                    She swoops in, frantic as a barn swallow
looking for a place to perch, rafters she can hide between,
these glossy walls confuse her, poor thing. She’s no regular,
a coupon client. I settle her with a cape and despair
over the nest of her hair.
                    She says, I’ve been told my hair is fine.
This? This wiry, coarse, grey mat! And then, she says,
I want a cut that requires nothing of me, looking at me as if
I can work miracles. Christina, I call out, a shampoo,
extra conditioner.

                    Back in the chair, she’s more concerned
about the cappuccino she was handed than what length
to cut her hair. She says, I’ve been told no bangs, I can’t do bangs.
Who told this sorry bird that story, she’s the type who collects
a nugget from one stylist, parrots it back to the next.
                                                            Now she asks me
where I’m from. I speak English with no accent and yet, she asks.
Okay, I’ll tell her the truth, no one knows anything anyway
about my country. But no, she picks at my Albania like it’s a fat,
juicy worm, cocks her pigeon head and asks how old I was,
as if this is something we should discuss. She presumes,
presumes so much.
                                        I show her hair is what you make it. Hair
is what you do. You are your hair. Her husband had an interest,
poor man, every book on Albania in Boston–probably a half-dozen
at most. The Burma of Europe, my forsaken country cut off,
swept away like hair.
                                                    Enough of her chirping. I will show her
what can be done. She wants easy, nothing is easier than hair. I tell her
one morning of attention can last days. She blinks her little sparrow eyes,
nods like a wren on a wire. I twirl her hair with my hollow brush,
lighten her matted wings.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Until I went to college, my mother cut my hair so I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable in salons. This poem came out of my feelings of discomfort in a fancy salon that I had a Groupon for and my interest in the stylist’s Albanian heritage.

Buchinger braid

Mary Buchinger
is the author of Aerialist (Gold Wake Press, 2015) and Roomful of Sparrows (Finishing Line Press, 2008). Her poems have appeared in AGNI, The Cortland Review, DIAGRAM, Nimrod International, PANK, Salamander, Slice Magazine, Massachusetts Review and elsewhere. She was a featured reader at the Library of Congress and received New England Poetry Club’s Varoujan and Houghton Awards. She is Associate Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University, Boston, Massachusetts.

PHOTO: Walk/Ride Day Celebration at Magazine Beach Park, Cambridge, Massachusetts (July 2015). Photo Credit: Nathan Brescia