2002 Graduate Poetry Winner

 

Kevin Gonzales

Julio, El Barbero

 

 

He fled Cuba in the Sixties to neighbor isle

Puerto Rico and became an estadista.

 

You canít blame him, argued my father,

a statehooder himself, against my claim:

 

He should shut up, support the cause

or leave. La estadidad is not an option.

 

The cause meant independence. I was fifteen,

disciplined by my heartís blind politics.

 

I bore the same style since six, when

a phonebook hoisted my face onto the mirror,

 

a few inches off Julioís effort.

Every month he asked me what I wanted

 

and I said the same thing,

my father next in turn for the chair

 

that had cradled him for thirty years.

At nine, I had memorized his story

 

of exile, the whisper of scissors

cutting air as he paced around me.

 

On Havana nights, he was a tenor.

Barber by day. Deacon on weekends.

 

It was hard, but we went on...

his nostalgia-thick breath collapsing

 

gradually into ruin. At thirteen,

I derailed our dialogue to baseball

 

but the off-season proved a problem.

He likes the Yankees, thatís no surprise.

 

In Puerto Rico he is choir director

of his church. Not the same thing

 

as a deacon or a tenor, he implies

in a blank stare towards the mirror.

 

I am older now, two phonebooks taller

than Julio, still an independentista

 

but understanding of the cause of others.

I am sorry for him, a life confined

 

to scissors whispers and remembrance.

He deserves to talk and I owe to listen,

 

to sit still as when his razor soothes me.

I should root for the Yankees so he can win one.

 

I lean back on the chair, familiar haven.

He speaks of mid-century hurricanes

 

striking Cuba. Shreds of hair slump

toward the ground, dispelled memories.

 

 

About the Prize Winner:

Kevin Gonzáles, winner of the 2002 Touchstone Graduate Contest for Poetry, is a student at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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