Green Hills Literary Lantern






the barbershop


upon retirement / forced by the downtown renewal that demolished his main street

barbershop / frankie’s grandfather / to keep a hand in / recreated his classic shop in frankie’s basement / where i and all of frankie’s buddies still got our buzz cuts / though his grandfather’s adult business / with the move / pretty much dried up


frankie wasn’t always home when my mother sent me over / so sometimes i had to

communicate for myself with his grandfather / who spoke english with an italian accent that filled the air with invisible curlicues / an accent that made english beautiful beyond understanding / as if transformed into the italian opera he always kept on


it made me a quiet / observant boy / preoccupied / as the haircut droned on / with the tarnished mirrors / the rows of talc and lotions / the razors and belts and brushes / all / spookily / in the exact locations they had been on main street


but most prominent of all were the two barber chairs i’d climb into as if for a fantasy ride through the sky / or for my electrocution / always feeling some of each / though once i’d settled in / the smell of frankie’s grandfather’s musky sweat / and the casks of homemade red wine aging on the other side of the basement / kept me feeling / after all / alive on earth


then frankie’s grandfather would whip off the cutting cape with an operatic flourish / and

i’d hand him my dollar and a dime for a tip he’d graciously bow into / embarrassing me /

though i knew he only meant to grant a boy manly status


finally i’d climb the steps that led straight from the basement into the summer sun that used to flood his main street shop / especially on the playboy magazines i never touched but that a slash of sun seemed always to highlight / sun that would flood the men from his church / st. anthony’s / who used the barbershop as their gathering place on main / a place to stop in while running chores / or to hunt for votes / or to settle disputes / a role / far down our side street / and down in the dark basement it shared not only with the casks of wine / but with trunks of old clothes and busted ironing boards and rusty sleds / it could no longer play


i’d step into the gaudy sunshine from where / if you stopped to listen / you could hear / dimly and beautifully / the opera singers’ hearts breaking









Late at night

in my boyhood Junes

I’d place a flashlight close

to the window screen by my bed, turn it

on, and wait—never long—for the moths to

come and, in a frenzy of weird, helpless attraction,

bang the unforgiving screen with surprising force, the taut screen

sounding at each assault with a reverberating, moth-world sonic boom.


I knew it was wrong,

knew I should stop and turn the

light off, knew I was just being cruel—

but I was too fascinated by the wild spectacle

I had generated to stop myself, much like how, I later

figured out, the ever-aloof object of my first, devastating

crush must have felt as she deliberately slowed when passing me

by so as to give herself ample time to watch me watching her, bug-eyed.






The First Street Garden


In the gap

where one row house

on East First Street has been missing

for years thrives a small garden of ground cover—

myrtle, pachysandra, English ivy—and boxwood bushes

interwoven with stone paths, a few wooden benches set out,

squirrels, ever so serious, purposefully darting about, the brick

back of the row house that fronts East Second Street a painted mural

of flowers (above which clings real ivy) while old stone fireplaces, once

shared with the adjoining brownstones, squat blocked-up; and, most stunningly,


a small stand of birch trees tall enough to have been growing there for years—

perhaps since I was a child—a slender, graceful, rooted family

I stop and commune with whenever, heading down

First Avenue, I must. Here in the garden

of First and First.




Mark Belair is a drummer and percussionist based in New York City. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including The Distillery, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mudfish, Slipstream, The South Carolina Review, and The Sun. His poem, “The Word,” was nominated for a 2008 Pushcart Prize and his chapbook collection, Walk With Me, has been accepted for publication by Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. For further information, visit