Martin Arnold

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

We’re hurling Doug’s VW Bug, that shell
of a car, through a wall
of sunshine


on the first brilliant day of summer,


blasting school away
with each amplified guitar lick
pulsing through the woofers,


flipping-off each stop light’s authority


as our first long strands of hair—like freedom—
surf the crowd of goose bumps moshing down our necks


then suddenly I’m with Kerri twenty years later,
an apprentice who finds beauty
in a skater’s head exploding
purple liberty spikes


and in the curlered, blue hair of the skater’s Aunt
who lingers in the whirring proscenium
of a drooping bubble-gum pink tulip.


Every station’s manned with a hair mannequin—
mine wears a glob of product flattening an inverse mohawk
down the center of a hemisphere of curls


in what might be described in beauty textbooks as
a “permanent accident.”


Clippers buzz above jars preserving combs;
there are dustpans stuffed with hair, and holsters
for hand-held guns of air


along rows of aerosols and gels
exhaling that peculiar chemical salon smell.


And there’s something ancient in Kerri’s patience,
something deeply spiritual in her
deliberate consideration of the implications


of even the slightest movement
of her hands. I want her


to make me bulletproof again,
hurling through that wall of sunshine


but she spins me toward a guy
in tight jean cutoff shorts
leaning across the hood
of the Camaro that he buffs,


hot-waxing his big-blocked, metallic aphrodisiac.


I’m not embarrassed
that Kerri transforms me into this prince
with each kiss of her scissors


as much as I’m hurt
she sees this guy in me


that she’s brave enough to liberate
from the tractor-pull raging deep inside.


Kerri waits for my approval
as if she crushed a beer can
against the forehead of my [her??] vanity.


We squint into our brilliant futures
imagining ourselves free


from collisions with honesty this humbling.

Martin Arnold