At my age, you don’t need to shave so often,
But this morning the mirror says I really
Ought to, so I get the razor out. I used to lather up
With soap and brush. I liked that hidebound way
Of starting each day by caressing my face with badger hair,
Saving the world from one more can, but I’ve grown lazy.
Press a button, and my hand fills with luxurious cream.
Wrinkles make shaving a bit trickier, and I hate my jowls.
First time I saw them, I howled, “Jowls! I’ve got jowls!”
My wife laughed from the bedroom. “You just noticed?”
My grandmother had whiskers at my age. Had to
Buzz her upper lip and chin. We never mentioned this,
But you could see those little dots, like stippling
In scientific drawings, and she kept an electric shaver
Hidden in her cabinet beside the pills. Still had
All her teeth and let you know it. Bragged,
“I’m eighty-eight and still have all my teeth!” Then
Let loose a long red balloon of laughter. Splendid woman.
Big-boned, plain, but vivid with gossip and little stories
From her life, which didn’t end until the age of ninety-seven.
Once I asked her which part of her life she liked the most,
And she said, “Probably these last twenty years
Here in the high-rise.” Astounded, I said, “Really?”
“Well, I’ve had my own money, and nobody was
Knocking on the door, dunning me for unpaid bills.”
This woman lost a brother to the Spanish Flu,
Survived the Great Depression, a daughter
Who died young, a handsome husband who drank
And lied and went with other women. I suspect
She was a willful nagger, wild worrier.
She bit her nails down to the quick. “I come,”
She’d grin, “from a long line of nervous wrecks.”
So whose hand is it that steadies mine
As I lift the razor to my throat? When we spoke
Of old age, she often said, “I feel the same.
I feel just the same as back when I was young,
So looking in the mirror sometimes I’m shocked.
Who’s that? That can’t be me! I’m someone else.
And yet that’s me. How can that be?” And then
Let go a lunatic arpeggio of laughter. Glorious
Old girl. I love her still, though she’s long gone.
Long gone. And right beside me as I shave.
Bart Sutter is the only author to win the Minnesota Book Award in three categories: poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. His most recent collection is, “So Surprised to Find You Here” from Nodin Press. He lives in Duluth on a hillside overlooking Lake Superior.