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!’