Judith H. Montgomery: "On the Comb as Outward and Visible Sign"




Her white hair’s been wind-ruffed—
     the way a dandelion’s haloed globe

drifts open—and when my mother
     stops, four steps inside our home,

my father stops behind her, and draws
     her comb, blue as the Virgin’s cloak,

from his pocket.  With exquisite
     care he redeems each blown strand

into its proper curve, although she
     does not know she’s mussed or 

even that he combs, her arms already
     open to claim the hug she craves

from each of us—while the eager
     spaniel wreathes about our halted
bodies, while my husband waits
     to slip inside and shut the door
behind.  It’s as though every atom
     in the room lights here, on the comb,

on my father’s office of attendance—
     he who abandoned what he thought

was a calling to the priesthood—
     leaving off the white collar, the black
woolen cloak, his years of Latin
     and Greek.  Who shut firmly behind

him the brass-hinged seminary
     door to step, bride glowing on

his arm, into this other life
     of devotion, vowing to make her

life at last perfect, and she perfectly
     loved.  And here she stands, hair

gleaming even while her mind    
     dims, as the ministering comb—

blue as sky or Heaven—is raised
     and stroked and lowered, and our family

stops, lowering its head, to bow
     again before the contract, the blessing.


Judith H. Montgomery lives and writes in Bend, Oregon. Her poems appear in Cimarron Review, Measure, Hunger Mountain, and Cave Wall, among other journals, as well as in a number of anthologies. Her first collection, Passion, received the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Poetry; Red Jess (2006) and Pulse & Constellation (2007) followed.