Burton the barber would bop the chair with his hard
barrel gut to turn it, his quick scissors never seeming
to pause as his mouth kept time with a steady stream
of lies about his service in Vietnam, land he’d bought
in Montana, a car dealership he owned in Ohio. I never
saw him use an electric trimmer, though. He started
in a nice enough shop downtown by the tracks, near
where Mitchell’s Grocery used to be, with two or three
ancient arcade machines in a back room—Mario Brothers,
Donkey Kong, maybe Pac Man. He had a kitchen teeming
with roaches and made us promise not to tell the owner
he was living there with his two awkward sons. A few months
later, he moved two blocks over so he was facing the park,
a lot full of trash they later cleared out to make way for an old
caboose to celebrate the founding of the town when a car
fell off the tracks. The arcade was gone, but we still went
in the hopes he wasn’t lying about bringing it back.
A few months later, he moved to a single room on Falls,
he said to keep ahead of the government. He opened
a tanning booth in the back and filmed the women
who came, sold the tapes to an outfit in Memphis. When
folks found out, they ran him out of town. No more five
dollar haircuts. There was an older guy who’d do it
for four, but he was so slow, it wasn’t worth the wait.
The well spewed water from an alien-seeming white
PVC pipe into the green-topped rice field. We thought
it’d flow forever. In a hundred plus degree weather,
the mist was a Godsend. Sometimes, we’d back
a tractor up to a nearby pond and run a relift
to pump water out to a scorching field; we’d stand
under the thin sprays from leaks in the rubber pipe
trying to get cool, already soaked from sweat anyway.
White dirt levees snaked along high ground, sectioning
the field to spread the water evenly through plastic-lined
spillways, but the levees always leaked. We spent
sweltering afternoons wading in to shovel mud
into flowing water, patching or cutting new spillways.
When you drove by, they looked like they were running,
kaleidoscopic. Mosquitos rippled above them like mirages.
The smell of cool, clean, mud and water with no smell.
The taste of clean mud, well-water, rice chaff on the tongue.
Sun blistered the skin if it wasn’t already burned red.
Old men cruised the shoulders, scanning levees, seeing
something I couldn’t see.