Every Comb in the House

Jane  Zwart

for Abel

This morning I saw the back of my husband’s father’s head
and he just risen from sleep

was keen on the picture window first
which was how a gray cowlick—

a whorl of hair ironed upward—let me see
the boy he once was.

I’d tried to spot that boy before. I’d studied
the snapshot kindergartener

but he winced just as the shutter yawned
and the Dutchman running the shop was not prodigal.

He printed the photo as it was and hung it up front
where it may or may not have

curried local favor. In the meantime
the blurry kid emigrated. So did decades

before he turned tourist and came back
and there it still was in the camera-shop’s window.

How quickly he bought the likeness,
my husband’s father, how quickly

he pocketed the gray boy
with unfocussed eyes and wooden shoes

and then hung him in the hall—it’s a story
he likes telling.

But I didn’t buy the likeness.
Every year for his Christmas

my father-in-law asks
only for black socks bought cheap

or for birdseed. Once a border agent split
the bag of millet

in our trunk and I dreamed
a banderole of birds

to peck at our rear wheel wells
while my husband drove

in the direction of the picture
I queried each year.

The man whose son I wed
and the kid in the candid:

I was able only to tell them apart.
But this morning

I saw the back of Abel’s head
and (he just risen from sleep)

my husband’s father’s hair
was the hair of a child

roused from humid dreams. He was keen
on the picture window first

and leaned into the glass, in socks,
without his glasses.

This is all that happened:
a red smudge, a house finch’s head, wet his eyes

and I whispered Hide
to every comb in the house. 



Jane Zwart teaches English at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, and TriQuarterly, as well as other journals and magazines.

Return to Fall Issue 12.1