While Shaving

Alfredo Aguilar

I recall the nights after work when my father,

In preparing to shower, would, without knocking,

Open the door to my room, stand inside the doorframe,

And ask that I help him shave the hair on his neck

That he couldn’t reach or see, but could feel growing.

There were only two of us living in that quiet house then.

My siblings were away to school and my mother,

Who on a number of occasions, I suppose,

Had done this for him, had left like light —

All at once, leaving no trace it had ever shone there.

In the bathroom, my father’s neck would be lathered in soap,

He’d hand me a razor, and while I shaved

The back of his neck I’d notice his dark thinning hair,

And he’d sometimes mutter that I wasn’t

Pressing hard enough to cut the stray strands.

Looking into the mirror, I see my father’s face.

It occurs to me that at times, age and necessity

Reversed our roles, our responsibilities —

Years ago it was my young face in the mirror

          And his rough hands on my skin —

Had I ever felt my father so close?

He pushed the blade across my soap-lathered cheek

Revealing a strip of freshly shaved skin,

And perhaps felt, as I feel now,

A mixture of pride and sorrow —

I was becoming a young man and my father

Was always my father, only older.

He would often say, de-thorning nopal,

Repairing a broken sprinkler, or changing a flat tire —

It’s important you learn how to do this.

I won’t always be here to help, you know —

I watched his callused hands,

How careful, how gently

Time fell from them.


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