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Professional Reincarnation | Bite my lip, Henry Biggins | Beth Anne Royer

Profession Reincarnation

I asked Dean what his favorite profession was and he said, Hair Artist.

And you? Dean said, Favorite profession?

Rodeo queen I said.  Our dog had horrible gas. This was out of character. We were planning our grand re-invention, which was an annual activity in our house. 1997, sausage makers, 1998, karaoke stars, 1999, stenographers. At times it seemed we were working against ourselves. At times it seemed the slough and ephemera of our past incarnations might get together and start an avalanche determined to bring down our present.

I confess when he said, Hair Artist I thought he meant hair  stylist. For years he’d helped me do hair fashions for various activities—a bouffant for my waitressing years, a braid for the horse stables. I’d blurted our rodeo queen, in part as a response to the artistry. A rodeo queen would need a hair artist. His hands in my hair, he’d say, It is my pleasure to serve your locks at Hair John. His Hairstyling name was John, you see.

When I came into the yard and found him amidst a flurry of wigs and hair clippings—with no a head of hair in sight—working to attach them to a canvas with some thick adhesive product, I was confounded. Hair Artist? I said, aghast at the pile of locks he caressed that had never been attached to anyone’s head that we knew. The smell of the adhesive was dizzying, even in the outdoors. I wondered where he would conduct his artistry in the cold season. My sister had sniffed glue as a child, the scent made me both nauseous and nostalgic.

Dean looked at my blue jeans, cowboy boots, and my tasselled suede jacket. My hair needed styling. I had smushed it into an undersized stenson, in the hopes that he could assist me.

Rodeo Queen? He said, looking me directly in the eyes, like maybe what was under my hat was just what his canvas needed. He lurched toward me with scissors and a damp, adhesive soaked brush. This combination would prove to be our most successful reincarnation.

Bite my lip, Henry Biggins

I was working in the toy library, repairing the hair and nails,
the feet and wheels, the parts that children batter best.
One would think “How much damage can they do in a week?”
(this the length of the lending policy)
still my work was endless, the toys piling up in sorted piles
so that the sad dolls lay akimbo, hands and feet all grubby
my first job was always to give them a good bath.

But the dolls were not my favorite,
I found the most pleasure in returning wheels to their spin,
In making toy trains and cars and planes spin and swoop again.
The trolley was running late. I ran to the stop
in the hope of making it home before my sister,
who would no doubt commandeer the radio.

My shoes no match for the cobblestones
the heel of my shoe busted and there was Biggins,
big as life, big as his name, big as bluster,
offering to carry me home in his automobile.
The zeppelin was due in town tomorrow
my ankle hurt, but I did not want to give this man
the pleasure of knowing me.
I refused to acknowledge him, and he leaned in, gentle as a hummingbird,
and bit my lip.

This song goes out to the old man in the library with his hand in the microfilm machine

Barely surviving the filthy gray of February, I went to the library.

On the shelves
the typewritten passages of possibility—
shall we make silhouettes?
Knit elaborate uniforms for our pets?
Adopt a raw food diet?
Get the love we deserve?
Identify a cancerous mole?

For a while, I read a book by a lady about how she fucked a lot of jerks in New York.
When I was done with the book, I was grateful in the same way that she was,
to be older and wiser,
to have not fucked jerks, amen.

In this fluorescent municipal space full of the passed gas of 10,000 residents,
full of books borrowed and returned
strange oscillations, the pattering of keyboards, you sit in a cubicle.
You, little man in a suit, wild haired and white haired
human and the bright light of the microfilm machine illuminates you.

You rotate your hand in the mouth of the machine,
your magnified hand turns to granules of black spots on the screen.
Staring into the sunlight of near obsolescence,
the bright light of your body blown through a magnifier.

And in this machine you might discover any number of mysteries—something
about that French female pilot, why the daughter of Wisconsin Senator Bill DeFollete
is pictured with Inez Milholland, where that article on your great grandfather resides on cellulose acetate.

Everyone went about their business
the reference librarian spoke about hockey defeat, teenagers mumbled,
but you sat quietly astonished,
staring into yourself and the white light of the past/future/present
cellular diversions gone granular,
without any miniaturized words to guide you.

Beth Anne Royer has won awards for her poetry from the Academy of American Poets, Emerson College, Princeton University, Yankee/PEN, The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival.  A chapbook of her poems entitled Radio Dreams was chosen as Slipstream Press‘ 2004 chapbook winner.  Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Ampersand, Poetry Motel, and Gulf Stream, as well as in the NEW ACQUISITION pamphlet series.  Her short fiction has appeared in Quick Fiction.

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