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Hymn to the Comb-Over


Today’s poem is “Hymn to the Comb-Over” by Wesley McNair. Wes was Maine’s fourth poet laureate and is the author of ten books of poems, most recently The Unfastening. He’s currently professor emeritus and Writer in Residence at the University of Maine Farmington, where he directed the creative writing program for many years.

He writes: “In August of 2001 I had all my hair buzzed off, including a little comb-over I kept on the top. And I looked down at the comb-over that had been snipped off and was at my feet, and I thought of all the noble service it had provided over the years, and I almost felt sorry for the thing. I told a friend about this afterward, and he said, 'Wes, you should have saved the comb-over. You could have put it behind glass in the science building of that college where you teach, next to the stuffed birds with a sign underneath that said 'Professor McNair's Comb-Over, August, 2001.' I didn't think to save my comb-over, but I did write this poem to honor comb-overs, wherever they may be."

Hymn to the Comb-Over 
by Wesley McNair 

How the thickest of them erupt just    
above the ear, cresting in waves so stiff    
no wind can move them.   Let us praise them    
in all of their varieties, some skinny    
as the bands of headphones, some rising    
from a part that extends halfway around    
the head, others four or five strings    
stretched so taut the scalp resembles    
a musical instrument.   Let us praise the sprays    
that hold them, and the combs that coax    
such abundance to the front of the head    
in the mirror, the combers entirely forget    
the back.   And let us celebrate the combers,    
who address the old sorrow of time’s passing    
day after day, bringing out of the barrenness    
of mid-life this ridiculous and wonderful    
harvest, no wishful flag of hope, but, thick,    
or thin, the flag itself, unfurled for us all    
in subways, offices, and malls across America. 

Poem copyright © 2006 by Wesley McNair. Reprinted from The Ghosts of You and Me, published by David R. Godine, 2006, by permission of the publisher.