Gray and Black

Mother's hairdresser lifts her tresses,
glides them through his fingers, smoothes
them flat, focuses on the task of shaping

& defining. All the while tangles of thickening
plaque beneath her scalp are redefining who she is,
shaping who she'll be. I watch her facing the mirror,

she doesn't look or look away. Brushing away
tiny slivers of gray from her face, I wonder
what she's seeing, feeling. My thoughts stray

to her beauty-parlor days of old: Once back home,
she'd head straight to her bedroom, root herself
at her vanity & pull & pull her sheared black locks,

frantic to stretch them back to a length she could live with.


Fine snippets fall to the floor of the shower stall
in mother's nursing-home bathroom, mother, statue-
still on a plastic stool—me, standing behind her

wondering what to do with the comb while
I wield the scissors with one hand & clasp her
locks with the other—Mother's tangled brain

not letting her grasp she could ease my task,
turn her head when asked, hold the comb, look
in the mirror. See what a fine job I'm doing?

Once month for seven years, I stand at the sink
in mother's bathroom, trying to rinse all traces of her
out of my mouth before they break my heart

more than I can stand.

Ruth Sabath Rosenthal is a New York poet, well published in literary journals and poetry anthologies throughout the U.S. and, also, internationally. In October 2006, her poem "on yet another birthday" was nominated for a Pushcart prize. Ruth has authored five books of poetry. The books: Facing Home (a chapbook), Facing Home and beyond, little, but by no means small, Food: Nature vs Nurture, and Gone, but Not Easily Forgotten are available for purchase on For more about Ruth, please feel free to visit her website: