Last Cut

by | Nov 13, 2020 | November 2020 Writing | 6 comments

You let me drive. You let me choose the radio station. You rested your huge head against the headrest and closed your eyes. You were never a willing passenger. All firsts. Seventy-five quiet kilometers to the Regional Palliative Care Clinic. I walked the Thames Riverbank for an hour. Back in the car, you said, I need a haircut. I want it all off. These patches are butt ugly.


Outside Masonville Mall in London, Ontario, the most conservative city in Canada, you said you wanted to vomit, couldn’t get out of the car. I went into Hair Effects Cut Above Gentleman’s Barber and told the story. Orhan followed me through the mall to the car, I put down the window and rested your head against the car door frame. If we had a bucket, we could give him wash, Orhan said or joked. Thin tuffs fell to the asphalt. Blond brown sandy grey tumbleweeds blew toward the highway home. Orhan toweled your scalp, returned your head to the rest, refused payment. You mumbled thanks. Orhan mumbled in Arabic. A prayer I imagine. Shook my hand, patted my shoulder.


The drive home was more silent. You tilted your head to stare out the window. High cornrows, rutabaga, wheat, cattle, our primary school, a friend’s farm, the church, the hill where your body decomposes now. In that driveway, you put your arm over my shoulder. We hobbled inside; a soldier pulled from battle. You went to bed for the last time. Left your body there.


  1. Corey Holzman

    The descent on this is beautiful. It almost starts hopefully with road trips and radio stations! But then each line brings us a little farther into the sadness. For just a moment I was a little confused about who Orhan was, it almost threw me out of the story.
    The last paragraph is short, terse, and great. It really gives a sense of loss and finality.

    Nicely done!

  2. John Steines

    David – first read through I missed the importance of the hair references. Second read it hit me very hard, and I thought of the long course and the suffering of all involved. You write through that without giving into the personal – witness only. Quite remarkable how you convey this without seeming emotion, focusing on the action, or the performance of the action (out of body, disconnect). This is quite powerful, more powerful. I think, than another approach. Very impressive. Thank you.

  3. Rogan

    David, this is a beautifully rendered, heartbreaking narrative. Small touches like mentioning the conservative city and the visual between fallen hair tufts and tumbleweeds, the way the final paragraph works like a list poem is rather perfect. You’re using “you” like a device or hinge in the opening. Those first four sentences make it a pounding thumb. I felt it every time with each additional “you.” I’m not sure it’s warranted or necessary — even as it has purpose and is informative. I would love to see a version where you open without that emphasis. Find another way to the telling. Or it’s my poet-brain invading and ignore me. In every other sense, I love the piece.

  4. Robert Vaughan

    Hi David, hair as epitaph. This is so effective, the pallor you shape and so delicately take the reader on this journey with speaker and (father? brother?) the other, the “you.” I love the meter of this, and rhythm. That actual hair scene in the car is so evocative. Did you mean “tufts” (you have tuffs, which are volcanic rock). And the ending is so powerful, evocative and sad.

    I’d submit this to a magazine like Bending Genres, one that likes pieces in the margins. It’s terrific, spare and fraught with emotion.

  5. Sara Comito

    This is sad and spare and so gentle. There’s so much vulnerable masculinity in this. More like this in the world, please! The seeking of ministrations from the barber, given the religious and cultural differences especially, and the mythic symbolism in hair – it takes on the scale of an epic without grandeur. I also like the pov, but at first thought it was being told in the present tense. I wonder what would happen to try that throughout, although the story is already so clear and present. Really lovely, David.

  6. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    David this is such a tender piece, evokes other deaths for me as I read it even as it is specific, beautifully linked to its places, the drive, the river Thames, London, Ontario (the comment on its conservative quality), and the drive home through fields. So many of these details echo metaphorically also– rivers, roads connote other journeys. I love the way you wove in the humane response of the barber, reminding the reader that we all make this journey, one way or another, regardless of cultural heritage. The steady clarity of this piece, the calm pacing of its many details renders this narrative all the more powerful.

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