153. Shampoo

The dry breeze of
Mid-day clacked the leaves.
The sun lay on
Rooftops in harsh
On these afternoons, a novel
Pleasure: wash each other’s
Hair. “Like a shop!”
Louise said. Riah’d
Spare no water:
Louise brought it
In a rusted pail.
“You’re so cheap,”
Louise scoffed, “you’d steal
Pennies from
A dead man’s eyes.”

Pooled their soap.
Riah had lard
Scraps, and Louise,
Tiny samples
Elegantly wrapped: tissue,
Shiny words.
They brought rags to
Dry, turned collars up.
At the sink, they
Lathered. Riah’s
Head was lowered,
Hair flung back.
“Wet down!”: Louise
Seized the chestnut
Mane, so heavy,
Loose now in her
Hands, all shampoo-slick.

Their game started.
On the brown head
Louise rubbed thick soap,
Gathered foamy
Masses, and squeezed
In: “Look!”–two ears
Formed with suds–
“You’re the goat!”, passed
Her the mirror.
Riah glimpsed and
Laughed. Louise:
“Look!”–those ears had
A hare!” Riah
Spluttered, smiled.
Louise shouted,
“What a beard, Saint
Nick!”–looped strands from
Riah’s chin.
Riah: “Stop!”
With this game,
She would get her
Fill before Louise:
“Rinse me off!”
Louise obeyed,
Bucketing the sleek head,
Fussing, tilting
The frail face,
Watching Riah’s
Placid eyes watch her,
Still as brown bowls
Waiting to be
Filled. Louise
Poured and poured.

Louise: “Me!”
Now her turn, same
Rites: red waves flung back,
Nape exposed.
Riah noticed–how, despite
All sun?–“Your neck is
White!”–smoothed back
Hair like peeling foreign
Fruit, smiling:
Farm wife, white!
“You put some type
Cream on it, I bet.”
“Never did.”
“You do!”
Taking charge,
Riah shaped no
Creature. Louise
Had that hair so
And her pallor
Could inspire
Fingers sheltered
Her friend’s eyes.
Agile Riah
Swept up soapy curls–
“A crown–you’re
A princess!” Riah said.
But told no
Dreamy fairytales that Louise
Scorned. “Look–”
Riah mashed the crown–
Held up for
Louise the looking-glass. Riah
Tested cleanness, squeaking
Strands. Parted
Bright hair side to
Side. Slicked it
Drastic, flat. “Louise,
Movie star!”
“Silly!” Louise
Seized the mirror, eager.

They toweled off.
Time then to
Retire to the porch.
There they chatted, dozed.
Louise asked, as
Always: “My perm hold?”
“Yes,” said Riah,
Eyes closed. “It held
Fine.” Louise, satisfied,
Dumped her bag: did
Riah spread her
Dark hair on the rail.
Settled down, gazing
Toward the yard,
At the bare
Plum tree. Rowdy
Sparrows flitted, darted
Through each other, hovered
In split-second cloud.
Light wind rose, and
With its motion
Unseen as a clock’s hand,
The sun climbed
The sky.

When it hung at
Mid-day, Louise
Reached across.
She pinched Riah’s
Foot. “Goodbye.”
Riah turned,
Regarding her with
“Your perm’s
Nice,” she said.

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