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Stopping at the Mayflower / Joseph Awad

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Joseph Awad, (May 17, 1929 – July 17, 2009) was an Arab-American poet, painter, public relations and executive. He was appointed national president of the Public Relations Society of America in 1982 and Poet Laureate of Virginia in 1998

Father, your hallowed ghost
Will always haunt me here. The old hotel
Is being renovated. In the ballrooms
Moldings and golden bas reliefs
Have been restored to their original splendor.
(If only they could restore that golden grin.)
And so this morning, early,
I descended the dim staircase off the lobby
To see the barber shop before it’s shorn
Of my particular memories, redone
Beyond our time together. Your poet son
Climbed the shoe shine stand, unrecognized
By the aging man who worked there in his prime
When you were manager. He could not know
His busy presence brought me close to you.

I could see, inside the shop. the barber chair
You worked from eight to six, six days a week.
I thought of my Georgetown years, lost afternoons
When I dropped by near quitting time. I’d peruse
The old Times-Herald or The Daily News
Until you finished your last customer,
Who, introduced, would say, as if on cue,
“Your dad is very proud of you.”

You would clip and cut my hair, shave my neck,
Give me a shampoo and a steaming towel,
Order me a shine. “The works,” you’d quip,
Treating me better than your biggest tipper.
I’d wait while you checked out the register
As I did long years before in Shenandoah.
(We lived behind your shop then. I’d rush in
On Saturday, your busiest day, demanding
In front of all your grinning customers,
A quarter for the movies…and some candy.)

As the old man brushed and buffed my shoes
I stared hard at your empty chair.
For an instant your were standing there
In your white tunic, shaking out the hair
From a barber cloth and calling, “Next.”
Spying me, you smiled, father-wise,
Lighting the Lebanese midnight of your eyes.

The shine was finished now. The man was waiting.
(I remembered Shenandoah long ago.
The morning of mother’s funeral we walked uptown
Dressed in our Sunday suits and new black ties.
You bought us both a shine.) With hurting eyes
And heart, I went up to the lobby, found the doors.

You would hardly know Connecticut Avenue.
New building have crowded out the old.
Your favorite restaurant’s gone. The wind was cold,
I walked the block or so to the cathedral
Where you went to Mass before or after work
Or during lunch on holy days. Before
The altar of our God (my faith in him
Your precious gift to me) I prayed,
Remembering a dream I had one night
Shortly after you died. You were in the shop
In Shenandoah, busy at your chair,
Honing your razor on the leather strop,
Preparing to shave a customer tilted back.
Reclining corpse-like under the white cloth.
The customer lifted his head.
It was Jesus and, accusing me
With eyes that pierced me through, he said,
“Your dad is very proud of you.”

Filed under: Arab lit and art, Articles, English

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