Beards I’ve Known


Mustache had terracotta clay stuck into the strands and a wife in California who made sculptures from animal skins. In the summers they’d meet half way in Minnesota, he with his teapots and she with her skins, both of them on vacation from office hours. It was strange to me at the time, the way they spent nine months apart. Then his Labrador Trixie died and we saw him at The Dunes with that red- lipped sophomore and it made sense—always three spouts, three handles, three lids. He could never make just one teapot at a time.



We lived a mile from the 45th parallel and our bodies knew it—tea mug, an extension of my mother’s right hand, Dad’s red long underwear dying his skin, a cupboard just for wood to the left of the television so that my five year old mind convinced itself that Elmo and his friends lived in there with the stacks of wood. This made the wood stove all the scarier; what if Elmo rode a stick into the flames? He never did and I grew to love the wood cupboard. When it was empty, we took a drive to town where the OldWoodCoot lived. A yellow mobile home with stacks of wood out front. Stacks taller than I’d ever grow; I’d weave in and out of them and Dad would let me pick out the best logs. He’d pay the OldWoodCoot with a check and a handshake. Then we’d eat the warmest sticky buns at the Harbor Café, he’d lift me into the Bronco, and head home. The OldWoodCoot didn’t have a name; he had a puffy gray beard and rough hands and wood to chop. I told Dad once, you’ll be an old woodcoot one day. He just squeezed me, looked at my mother with those warm cheeks, and said, I don’t think so, sweetie.



November, I’ve seen you hiding behind your beard of leaves, forging love letters on soccer bleachers to hot chocolate gulping moms. You keep it steaming, and me too. What if I stopped tousling in your leaves—waited ‘til winter and his snow? December is bitter, but less than the end of us. For now enjoy your ritual: dry turkey, Westminster Dog Show, burning your tongue on my pumpkin pie, sailing away in your gravy boat.



His desire: to be ugly. I came to know him this way, flaunting the fire jetting out of his jaw line, his hairline receding with every beer, baseball, day. But that night in June—with my rollerblades, his hands around my waist, stopping without breaks—I saw he wasn’t really ugly. His eyes drooped down blue like my neighbor’s Golden who attacked me with love until I hit him with a toboggan (an accident). I wanted to rollerblade with those eyes forever. At summer’s end, I asked to shave his beard, to let me see his face. This isn’t the Vagina Monologues of men, not a testimony to the keeping of chinstraps. But Grandpa told my brother and I tell this to you: between the beard and the girl, keep the one you’ve had longer.  

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