Kate Bernadette Benedict


Helen Agonistes


The hair dye kit is rent, the potions blended,
the applicator bottle top is snipped.
Around Aunt Helen’s neck a towel is draped,
an ancient cloth of stained and ragged weave.
My mother combs away the stubborn snarls
as Helen utters syllables of woe
and then along the hairline smears a gel
to minimize the mixture’s stain and sting.
Mother scores the hair in even parts,
methodical as Circe at her spinning,
serene in deed as any Grace or Muse.
And thus in latex gloves she squirts and daubs,
she saturates each hoary root and strand.
Helen squeezes eyes against the vapors
and whimpers a complaint: the goop is cold.
At last the head is drenched, the bottle empty.
Painted Helen sighs and plays canasta
until the timer sounds its saving bell.
A long shampoo is next, and many rinses
as mother scours skin where dye was cast
along the neck, inside the whorls of ears.
The curlers go on next, the bonnet dryer.
Part hornet now, part woman and part snake,
a changed Aunt Helen sits under that dryer
which emanates abysmal hiss and buzz.
The smoke of Lucky Strikes coils from her nose.
When her hair is dry and out of curlers,
all woman once again and sleekly styled,
she stands before my mother’s Grecian mirror
and poses for my flabbergasted father.
Like another Helen, young and new,
she strides into the street with swaying hips
to launch a widow’s Sunday night alone,
to launch a thousand nights alone, not ships.  


Kate Bernadette Benedict's full-length poetry collection, Here from Away, was an Editor's Pick in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2006. She lives in New York City where she edits the online poetry journal Umbrella. Among her recent poetry credits are The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Tattoo Highway, and Thanal Online.
Website: www.katebenedict.com


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