American Life in Poetry: Column 122


The chances are very good that you are within a thousand yards of a man with a comb-over, and he may even be somewhere in your house. Here’s Maine poet, Wesley McNair, with his commentary on these valorous attempts to disguise hair loss.

Hymn to the Comb-Over

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.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2006 by Wesley McNair. Reprinted from “The Ghosts of You and Me,” published by David R. Godine, 2006, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.