This summer, we present a special series on poems as maps. Read the introduction to the series.

To get there, drive past Hajjar Elementary School,
named after the child of Lebanese immigrants
who lived here his whole life and died as the much-loved war hero
and town physician. Coast past the ditch where the now-filled
Middlesex Canal once traversed the town lines of Billerica,
Burlington, Winchester, Cambridge, and Boston, transporting
raw cotton in one direction and colorful textiles
in the other. Take a left at the corner of Call and Pollard,
there at the house of Asa Pollard, the first man to give his life
in the Battle of Bunker Hill, twenty miles southeast of here.
Follow the necklace of shabby little ranches on Pollard
until you get to the town center, then drive around the rotary,
built around the tree beneath which George Washington
allegedly sat—is there any town in the former colonies
that doesn’t have such a tree?—and keep turning
past the old town hall, which is the new library, then
the old library, which is now the senior center
where she got her flu shot the day before, then past
Sweeney’s funeral home where she is now, in the basement,
beneath the hands of the mortician who injects her veins
with the formaldehyde that will preserve her until the next day,
when the hearse will drive her coffin to a plot that is being dug,
past Taylor Florist, where they will charge four hundred dollars
for a spray of lavender wrapped with cheap ribbons that say
Mother and Wife, to Jim’s, where you can see my father
getting his first barbershop haircut in forty-eight years.
The sideburns, already, are not to his liking, and the razor’s edge
feels a size off from her Oster home barbershop razor,
and the plastic sheet that covers him now is so uncomfortable
compared with the flowered bed sheet that she used, stained
purple-brown as it was from years of her own home coloring treatments.
If you listen, you’ll hear him tell the barber that he hasn’t been
to a barbershop since 1961, but now that she is gone, he guesses
that this is what he’ll have to do. In these first days, he’s relieved
to be with strangers. With them it is almost easy to say,
My wife has died in this, his new language.

Editors’ Note

“Barbershop,” by Joanne Diaz, is from My Favorite Tyrants, © 2014 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.

About the Series: Poems as Maps

Our series on poems as maps features work by Elizabeth Alexander, Bao Phi, Joanne Diaz, Nikky Finney, Sean Hill, Andrea Jenkins, Douglas Kearney, J. Drew Lanham, Claudia Rankine, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sun Yung Shin, Evie Shockley, and Ocean Vuong.

Joanne Diaz, “Barbershop,” Places Journal, August 2017. Accessed 08 Aug 2022. <>

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