Two Lists by Blake Butler

Issue 64

Found in Willow Springs 86

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Hair Loop

  1. My father used to tell me that he'd gone bald from holding the hair dryer too close to his head.
  2. That the gleaming bulb of his flat scalp skin had been burned free into the light.
  3. For years in the barber's chair I cringed, fearing the same, and often asked to go home sopping.
  4. The several dark brown hairpieces my father wore in rotation, stored in his closet on Styrofoam heads. Their features formed but slightly muted—noses without nostrils; skin without wrinkles; eyes with no pupils, lashes, lids.
  5. The short weird rip of adhesive as he pulled the hair off in the evening and sat in the living room in front of the TV wearing a denim hat my mother'd made.
  6. How self-conscious and incensed he'd become when as a stupid child I'd snatch the hat from his head and squeal in glee.
  7. The average human head has 100,000 follicles, each of which can grow 20 individual hairs over a lifetime, and from which an average 100 hairs are lost each day.
  8. Increasingly, in my frustration, and even without thinking now, I pull my hair out at the front.
  9. The damage becoming more apparent in the wispy frittered fragments of my bangs.
  10. Hair as the body's slow expulsion; as a set of fuses from the brain. .
  11. The strange arrival of the new hair during puberty, which as a somewhat frightened child I immediately extracted one by one until I could no longer keep up.
  12. The single long mutant black hair on my left forearm that continues to grow back no matter how many times I rip it out.
  13. Hair as a pack of multiplicity. As a signifier of demeanor, rank, intention.
  14. In that same closet with his fake heads, my father hid a stack of old porn under a T-shirt, which on the evenings he was not home I would sometimes steal into my room.
  15. The hair those women had or did not have. The soft width of their papered flesh.
  16. From certain issues I snipped certain pages and hid them in a purple folder in my desk.
  17. Some I reinforced with paste onto cardboard to extend longevity, like enormous trading cards. Others I traced on paper in fear their absence would be noticed.
  18. The graphite outline of that blonde-headed woman in the orange bikini top pulling her thong down as if to make sure she was still all there.
  19. The now ridiculous myth of hair growing on one's hands in retribution for dirty acts.
  20. Hair of Samson, Medusa, Rapunzel.
  21. During fetal development, a fine hair known as lanugo grows to cover the entire body as a form of insulation. 
  22. As the lanugo is shed from the skin, it is normal for the developing fetus to consume the hair since it drinks from the amniotic fluid and urinates it back into its environment. 
  23. Numerous times throughout my teenage years I allowed my hairdo to be determined by the ladies at Great Clips for $9.99.
  24. The old women's fingers in my output.
  25. Their breath against my neck.
  26. The smell of disinfectant from the combs soaking in blue fluid. The bristled tickle of the brush.
  27. Perspiration. Spritz and rinse. Snip of metal scissors. Rare spot of blood.
  28. Afterward standing in my bathroom mirror sometimes crying and pleading for god.
  29. Yet returning to the same place the next time my locks had grown out, as if with my hair they'd taken my memory, or pride.
  30. All those pictures of me ruined and blustered, preserved in yearbooks, hung in Mother's hall.
  31. Relax— You're at Great Clips. 
  32. Hair as a trophy, token, as in a bounty hunter's bag of scalps.
  33. Hair as a mold that grows across the face and in the nose and ears.
  34. As in the way hair can be anticipated, I often sense the residual presence of whoever rented my home before me.
  35. Their fingerprints and oils and output in the places where I now sleep and eat and shower.
  36. What surfaces we've shared without intention. What cells we've taken in our mouths.
  37. Clogs of long hair yanked up from my apartment's bathroom sink and the shower drain.
  38. Strands of dead cells snaking their way down, encased, drawn out with a coat hanger to stink and glisten in the light.
  39. The inevitable layer of loose hair on almost any floor. A constant carpet. Fodder for the roaches, feeding protein.
  40.  35 meters of hair fiber is produced every day on the average adult scalp. 
  41. Hairpin, hair turn, hair rigger, hairnet, hair tonic, hair lock, hair care, hair shirt, hairbrush, hair trap, hair band, hair remover, hat hair, hair on fire, hair of the dog, win by a hair, lose by a hair, let your hair down, splitting hairs, hair up your ass, angel hair.
  42. Combing. Braiding. Shaving. Teasing. Crimping. Regeneration. Rinse and repeat.
  43. The crudded crowd of prior selves stored and expelled, still hanging on, styled and combed and cleaned, worn in dreadlocks, braids, and perms.
  44. The sudden whitening of one's hair after significant trauma.
  45. The bits of other's shedding unknowingly consumed— hair in the has browns, coleslaw, orange juice.
  46. The hair found in the mouth while kissing.
  47. The single strand of her hair I kept for years after she was gone.
  48. The slow recession of my scalp as I molt like my father, my head flesh opening unto the light.
  49. The way hair evaporates immediately when touched with flame.
  50. And, burnt, such sharp stench blooming.


Word Count

  1. My mother in the kitchen asking me to count backwards from 100 by 7's with the Alzheimer's book clutched in her hand.
  2. A pot of water boiling for broth soup, as this week I weigh more than I have in years.
  3. My father gone for the evening to spend what might be the last year he is able to go to Deer Camp. 
  4. Deer Camp an annual vacation my father has taken with his friends and brothers for as long as I can remember, where they do not hunt so much as watch racecars and drink beer.
  5. The first time I saw porn, on accident, when I came with Dad to camp for a day.
  6. Penthouse, I think, which I age 5 found on a sofa half sunk into mud.
  7. Seconds of women spreading, their weird hair and eyes.
  8. More than tits I remember how the men laughed as my father took it from my hands.
  9. The metal in the fire.
  10. The aging framework of the cabin, the camping beds: decaying cells.
  11. The dead among that group of men increasing by the year.
  12. My father some days getting lost now going places he's been so many times.
  13.  My mother calling camp to make sure his brothers help with the medication.
  14. Behind the cabin, a minor flood hold of old collecting rain, known among my father's friends as Lake Hoonie, where he's said he'd like to be sent floating, Viking-style, when he dies.
  15. Ashes on water. 
  16. How each time I see him shirtless his skin seems different, stretching, reupholstered.
  17. Home from camp, when I ask what they did, my father's long gone-out stare, his looking off.
  18. My reiteration of the question. His eyes again. "We ate."
  19. The bowl of cereal under Saran Wrap in the refrigerator.
  20. How I feel scared writing this down.
  21. My father sitting in front of the turned-off television in the afternoons, hours that in other years he would have spent building with his hands.
  22. The hands inside his hands.
  23. His going to bed at 8 p.m., at7, at 6:30.
  24. My mother up alone evenings in the twin chairs they brought matching, writing her journals in longhand.
  25. The lists and lists of days she can not hide.
  26. How some days my father seems not there inside him, or sometimes transfixed in a loop. The hours spent cleaning the pool. Sleeping in from of the TV. Walking from room to room and standing.
  27. The number of words I have left speak or write before I die.
  28. An invisible word count fixed to my head at birth, as to my father's, my mother's— a count one won't know until it's completed counting down.
  29. That count shifting downward line by line and list by list.
  30. What words will remain labored inside us when the tally has been depleted.
  31. I feel reckless.
  32. Trying to imagine the percentage of language I've used on ordering fast food or on customer service hotlines. Talking shit to god alone inside my car.
  33. The words I could have made instead, or said another way.
  34. Words I could have given to my mother, to coax my father into me.
  35. Other things that might be counted down to death: footsteps, tacos, hours sleeping, orgasms, dental visits, inches of cut hair.
  36. Or worse: things we ruined, how many cheated, the pounds of consumed unhuman flesh, hours a loved one spent suffering— each by years or hours counting down.
  37. How many times in my life I've said the equivalent of: I'm tired or I'm hungry or Please stop. 
  38. We wouldn't need that many words if we could just learn to say the right ones at the right times.
  39. Another count to consider: the number of words you'll take in during your lifetime.
  40. This list killing us both with every line.
  41. Miscrosoftcountsthisasonewordbutyoucan'tcheatdeathsoeasily.
  42. The average adult takes between 12 and 20 breaths for each minute.
  43. 125 words per minute per person outputted in ordinary conversation; while at the same time, encased in bone and flesh, the brain spools on burning closer to 500 wpm.
  44. As well, on average, in a minute, per person: 15 blinks, 42 mL urine output, 600 thoughts; 50 million body cells dying and being replaced.
  45. Counting down and counting down.
  46. 162 babies born; 1.3 rapes; 16,000 Google searches; 8,500 McDonald's hamburgers sold.
  47. The average housefly lives 10 to 25 days.
  48. The average human lives much longer but in the end it probably feels the same.
  49. My father in the living room trying to turn on the TV.
  50. My father.

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