The Joy of Poetry



I get my hair cut at Walmart for two reasons: 1) I’m cheap, and 2) I have fascinating conversations with whoever happens to be my hairdresser.

At our local SmartStyle the turnover is high, I suspect because they work the women into the ground. This particular Tuesday there was someone new. Her name was emblazoned on a pin attached to her Just Do It T-shirt. Let’s call her Lynn.

She asked if I was off work, which is always an uncomfortable question for me to answer in that shop. I told her the truth, that I work from home for a magazine in Waco. Usually people ask me what I do for the magazine, and I answer, “Write and edit,” but Lynn didn’t ask. She just told me she wrote poetry.

Then while she cut my hair, she recited one of her poems.

She said it was influenced by a time when her son was little and had memorized all the names of the presidents. He said if he ever had a horse, he’d name it Coolidge. Because every kid wants to name his pet horse after good ol’ Calvin Coolidge, right?

The poem was about how her son was a horse, and she was a bird, and although they loved each other, they needed to go their separate ways — he’d graze in his pasture; she’d stick with her worms. (Yes, the word “worm” was in the poem, which thrilled me to no end.)

She said she hoped someday he might turn her poem into a song. It would make a good country tune—it had that kind of rhyme.

Then I got the rest of the story. She hadn’t talked to her son, who is 24, in a week. She couldn’t afford to keep bailing him out. He’s ADD and bipolar, especially in the morning. There was a truck she’d tried to give him that he refused and now he demanded she give it back. Girls love him.

Turns out she doesn’t even live here—she lives over an hour away. First she told me this was a working vacation. Then she told me she was hiding from him. Just for a week, she said.

She said she’s got a whole book of poems. She’s saving them for him.

I did not tell her I write poems too. I did not tell her I’ve written them about the hard things in my life, like during my mom’s last three years with cancer. I didn’t tell her I had a book about the joy of poetry releasing in three days. This was her day, her poem.

We think poetry is just for academic ivory towers. We think it’s only for men in tweed jackets or for women who never visit a hairstylist. But it’s also for people like Lynn, whose best idea for a vacation/hideaway is picking up a week’s worth of shifts at a Walmart salon in another town.

I wish I’d thought of something brilliant to say to her as I checked out, something to encourage her to keep the joy of poetry in her life, no matter what happens with her son, but all I could choke out was, “Take care.”

I said it twice.


(More at Tweetspeak, including a sample. Available at Amazon.)