I had my first hair cut when I was three.

(I had been tricked, bamboozled, farfirt).

My grandpa took me to his barber’s –

redolent with banter and tobacco smoke –

near the junction of Cricklewood Lane

and Finchley Road. It was frequented

by his card playing cronies. I watched him

have his hair trimmed and some strands combed over.

I was invited to try the high chair

but, no sooner there, I was begowned

and the scissors flashed. ‘Fetch a policeman!’

he always claimed I called out. I imagine

a shop full of Jewish refugees laughed

uneasily at my accidental vits.


He smoked Craven A in an ebony

cigarette holder, drank tea from a glass

with a silver plated handle and snacked

on Rakusen’s matzos coated with

Colman’s French Mustard. When I was eight

he taught me to shuffle a deck of cards,

perfumed with nicotine, from hand to hand

then thumbs and forefingers like a croupier.

He taught me Gin Rummy where the twos

of any suit are also deuces and wild

like the jokers. We could choose whether aces

were high or low. I liked the black cards best.


When we were playing he would sometimes pause

to tell me stories: of Kiev; his escape

from Russia; my father; my grandmother.

We continued to play well into my teens.

There were questions I did not know how to ask

and ones then I simply did not know to ask.

I pass the tiny tales on like pieces

of a mosaic. ‘Remember’, he said,

‘for patience whichever way you shuffle

first the jokers remove!’



Note: first published 2016.




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  1. #1 by Ashen Venema - April 28th, 2017 at 12:29


  2. #2 by Keith Johnson - April 29th, 2017 at 17:46

    ‘I pass the tiny tales on like pieces/of a mosaic’. Magic.

  3. #3 by Hugh Powell - May 1st, 2017 at 23:04

    As we mellow into our wisdom, our youth becomes larger and more precious.

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