Work means routine. Black tea
and oranges before ten, lunch
at the cafe near the Masonic temple.
Or maybe a haircut, the same place
for how many years now?
A cheap barbers, on the edge of Soho
its tacky Theatreland masquerade:
the photos of Kirk Douglas
in Paths of Glory, Marilyn Monroe
before she caught the final bus.
Show posters and flyers, actors
sometimes spilling out from auditions
to trim thespian beards. Always
staffed by the peripatetic and those
who have drifted here to remain.
The Spanish girl, who saddened
when she mentioned how long
she had worked here. Another
I saw only once, who handled clippers
as though she was shearing sheep.
The boy with tattoos and glasses,
who spoke of his pregnant girlfriend,
but would, later, become evasive
when I asked about the child.
I had forgotten about this other girl
until she appeared again, after
four or five years. I could recall
the smiles some men would flash
when she called for the next person
in line. Her beauty is still intact
but a disappointment haunts it now,
a regret. Did she feel that she
had left this place for a better life?
I am a swift customer these days,
my head shaved rather than groomed.
Afterwards, she takes payment, her gaze
already turning to the next in line:
these steps we make into the future
only to find ourselves marooned.
On the walk back, late for work,
in the crowds around Seven Dials,
I see myself in a car window:
a fleeting man, slightly harried
surprised to find myself even here.