Shaved Head

By John Hennessy John Hennessy
Forget contingencies from weather and wind,
my Helen’s head was shaved, the shortest bit
of stubble growing in. With darkened arching
black eye-brows, Betty-Blue mouth penciled red,
jet patent-leather trench and high-heeled boots,
she seemed more mannequin for Fashion Ave.’s
penitent spread than enemy to brass
at Camp LeJeune. Simply and grudgingly put,
her talk was action. Invincible in Bell-
Atlantic block and tack, she converted non-coms
and saved CO’s, harped flint and skinned the chair
of military courts through well-pitched cheek,
prompt dispatch from the War Resister’s League.
She looked good even on a bicycle, hemming left
through traffic on Fourteenth Street, locking up
on Lafayette or Grand. She doused for me
to celebrate—marched right through human waste
and Bowery puddles, stretched her legs over the last
old-fashioned hobos up to East Second Street.
Those ancient days, our vestibule was manned
by crack-dealing Stan, a concierge of wit
and improv, half his face scored by orange scars
from hydrofluoric burns. He kept the place safe.
But I had gone, cleared out behind a gang
of kids from Bronxville high on catnip wins,
shell-game victims. Left Stan my toaster, shelves,
a wire bird-cage, and, for once, nothing to say.
Except to ask if he could touch her skull.

Even now it makes no sense. Her precedents
I knew lurched out of focus: photos from France
after the Vichy fell, Jeannes and Sylvianes
who’d made Nazi moll; those Belfast girls
last-ditched by soldier boys or peelers; two-
toned Bergen-Belsen, bald sister to Fort Santiago.
Then Squeaky Fromm, the other Manson moms,
at Charlie’s trial. Extremes of Joan of Arc,
or even Buddhist nuns. Hated, chastened—
or chaste, at least. Not what you’d run (I ran)
your fingers satisfied across, the stubble
surprising, soft as mink or fox, and arch
your back, as I did once she found me uptown,
say yes I give again when she went down—
and faster now, quick as the television
dropped after dishes to the curb—or slipped
gradually up, the seconds separating
as slowly as but more exquisitely than
ticks off expensive fifty-minute hours—
and some community service—all gone, and just
as easily forgotten the raft of former friends
I’d cursed and floated off the island. Shaved head,
her slender neck, dark shoulders—that was half—
or less—her most convincing argument.

John Hennessy, "Shaved Head" from Bridge and Tunnel. Copyright © 2007 by John Hennessy. Reprinted by permission of WordTech Communications LLC.

Source: Bridge and Tunnel (WordTech Communications, 2007)

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Poet John Hennessy

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, The Body

 John  Hennessy


John Hennessy is the author of two collections, Coney Island Pilgrims (2013, Ashland Poetry Press) and Bridge and Tunnel (2007, Turning Point Books). He teaches at the University of Massachusetts and serves as poetry editor for The Common.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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