Sunday, December 1, 2019


                               A military hair brush
                               My good friend Cate gave to me 
                               As a token of esteem
                               More than 35 years ago
                               Boar bristles. oval walnut handle
                               Form and function, a thing of beauty
                               For decades I used it to align
                               My gently thinning hair
                               Regularly admiring
                               Its solidity in my hand
                               Its understated elegance
                               Feeling rather elegant myself.
                               Just by proximity
                               The firm command of its bristles
                               Keeping me presentable
                               Through courtship and marriage
                               To someone else
                               Home, children.
                               An elder son, grown to manhood
                               And took a fancy to the brush
                               I can assume.
                               Because he brought it to college
                               Without a by-your-leave
                               Or perhaps fancy wasn't involved
                               Maybe it was the casual assumption
                               Of the well-loved
                               That the world will offer and he accept
                               Or not, as is his pleasure.
                               Anyway, I politely inquired after the brush then
                               Discovering its fate
                               Let the matter drop
                               "I would have given it to him,"
                               I told my wife.
                              "Had he asked."
                              And bought another brush
                              A six-dollar rubberized 
                              Bed, Bath & Beyond Conair brush
                              Neither cheap nor luxurious
                              Functional nylon bristles
                              Still up to the task of tending
                              My gently thinning hair.
                              Frankly, I forgot about my wooden brush
                              Until it reappeared, along with my son
                              For the Thanksgiving holiday.
                              He, a fine, sleek, 24
                              The brush, at least a decade older
                              On the lip of the sink upstairs
                              Showing its age, the wood dry 
                              Mottled, water-worn
                              The bristles thick with his own blond
                              Gently thinning hair
                              Did I consider swapping the brushes?
                              I did.
                              But that is not what happened.
                              What I did was bring up a bottle of furniture oil
                              And a soft cloth
                              Then gently rubbed the oil in the walnut handle
                              Twice, until it shone fresh
                              I took a comb and carefully removed
                              His gently thinning hair
                              And set the brush, renewed
                              As quality will do
                              Back upon the sink
                              And quietly slunk away
                              With a smile of paternal happiness.
                              I cannot give him much
                              In the way of stocks or bond or real estate
                              Few business contacts
                              Fewer objects worth inheriting
                              But I can give the gift of 
                              A military hair brush.


  1. This is beautiful. We can know a person by noting what they keep, and what they give away. And HOW they do this. I know you better now Neil- you damn poet.

  2. Neil,
    Thanks for the poem. I could never figure out why my son would take my favorite pair of old hiking boots when he came home on leave. Now I know. George

  3. Didn't want any kids, so I didn't have them. But I know a gem when I read one. Thanks for your gift, Mr. S--of being a wordsmith, every goddamn day.

  4. This pretty much sums up who you are and what you value. A mensch of the highest order, as are your boys no doubt.
    One quibble...NO WAY were you seriously considering swapping the brushes. It ain't you.

    1. Busted. More of a momentary, after-the-fact flash. "What I SHOULD have done..."

  5. Children take and parents give. Sure hope you see some of yourself in your boys. Then it’s worth it.


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