The Highwayman lies severed,
cut down in the way,
shorn from his mount.
And the hand that did it rises trembling.
And the eyes rise trembling to behold it
To meet their accuser’s eyes wide. And trembling.
It was a rough deed, done with razorrrs
Watched with glass, that razor-sharpt eye
Done in a cold light, boding unforgiveness
We reach, each for the others face,
To sand the rough lines.
But stand, unfeeling him, and naked.
And ashamed, pupils pinpricks like conscience
Wide, whites-wide, shock of eyes
Track the reach for grace.
But there is none.
For them that slayed the Highwayman.
I. The Highwayman was the name for my beard. It was a good beard, about 3 months old, but bushy and red: the kind of beard that makes a man feel like he’s in the middle of something. The Highwayman was intended to be a grand project; a once-in-a-life-time snatch at hirsute glory. I was waiting ’til I could square cut him across my neckline, like a Victorian Bushranger. I’m grieving. I cut him off in front of the mirror on the weekend.
II. An Anglican Divine of Moore Theological College once called the Highwayman, “One of the World’s Great Beards”. I kid you not. Verbatim. He whispered it to me last week in the middle of a lecture on Emotions. I was moved. Although, on reflection I think it is deeply unfair to the present Archbishop of Canterbury. But, seriously, what did you expect at Moore College?
III. There is a lot of masculine identity bundled up with facial hair. I hadn’t realised this so intensely until the past few days. The Highwayman was a matter of comment for most of his life, his absence also was not without its pontificators. Blokes give other blokes a hard time about their lack of beard-growing prowess; and the beardless die a little inside. I once watched a piece of performance art in a gallery in Queensland where a bloke videoed himself drawing all over his face in texta. Again, I’m not kidding. It was strangely enthralling. Making a point about hair and manliness.
IV. On the subject of Art and Beards: a few words from Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding. (This may have in fact been the ultimate artistic genesis of the Highwayman, I loved this book as a child.). These are the words of Bunyip Bluegum’s Uncle (with whom he resides) on being entreated by Bunyip to shave. His refusal sets the whole narrative in motion. The words of the noble Uncle:
“Shaving may add an air that’s somewhat brisker,
For dignity, commend me to the whisker.”
Or, when more deeply moved, he would exclaim—
“As noble thoughts the inward being grace,
So noble whiskers dignify the face.”
Prayers and entreaties to remove the whiskers being of no avail, Bunyip decided to leave home without more ado.
V. It was painful to look at myself in the mirror after the Highwayman went down. Hair shapes the face. I needed to get to know myself again. I should have expected this, I’ve been wearing glasses since I was a little kid. Glasses become a part of your identity. I don’t think I could stop wearing them now, even if my eyes were suddenly 20/20. It would be too much like a unilateral re-legislation of my identity. These things require negotiation. The swipe of a razor blade is too sudden.
But sometimes things just end suddenly; with a jerk. Such is life.
VI. It’s hard work growing a beard:
Firstly, it’s just basically uncomfortable.
Secondly, one must cultivate the moral fortitude to bear up under the comments and glances of the full gamut of society: from mates to random blokes. And women always have opinions, which they are willing to share…
But ultimately, one must persuade the Mrs.
It was the Mrs what done for the Highwayman.