Haircuts with Noel

by Matthew Medendorp

For five years, I got my hair cut by a monk. He was my friend too, but before he was my friend he was a monk, while he was my friend he was a monk, and he’s still both my friend and a monk and presumably this pattern will continue on until one of us dies or I don’t need to get my haircut anymore. He’s too handsome to be celibate—we tease him about that—and he drinks too much beer to be considered saintly, but still, he’s taken a vow of poverty and eats oatmeal for breakfast every day. I’m not sure those are related. Once we stayed past closing time at a West Michigan dive bar and the bartender gave us free tequila and sidewalk chalk and Noel scrawled psalms on the salvaged brick above our recessed and splintered wooden booth while I tried to remember Whitman or Shelley or Oliver, any poem really, with the same ironclad recollection that Noel had, and for four years, one year less than Noel gave me haircuts, I tried to write a poem about that night. It’s still half-finished and tentatively titled Monk at the Monarch, circa 2013 and sometimes I still try to write it but I think maybe it’s better as a memory than a poem—all filled with the bottom of the bottle— peat, agave, grape, barley.

Each time I went to Noel’s front porch to get a haircut he wouldn’t take any payment except for a six pack and I’d sit on a salvaged church pew and we’d drink a beer each and he’d ask how I wanted to get my haircut and I’d say, “I trust you,” and when the haircut was done he’d pass me a mirror and ask if it was okay and I’d always say of course because it always was. We’d finish the beer and sweep the hair into the flowerbeds to keep the rabbits away. I’d walk the three blocks home and try to finish the poem that isn’t a real poem yet, but still steals a final line from William Stafford. Really, it’s more like a short-term loan, with one changed word so instead of the send-off being about how we all might be secret kings, the end of it all asks us to consider hidden saints.


Photography by: Andri Leonov