"barber pole whirl its red serpentine"

Just as a wooden Indian signaled the entrance to a cigar store, a traditional feature of a barber shop facade was the barber pole: a glass cylinder that contained a revolving white cylinder with a red stripe and a blue stripe painted in a spiral around it, so that, as it revolved, the red, white, and blue “ribbons” appeared to be steadily moving.

Barber poles are said to have originated from the medieval medical practice of bloodletting. Barbers performed surgery and tooth extractions in those times, as well. The pole had a brass basin at the top (which represented the container for blood-letting leeches) and another at the bottom for receiving the blood. The pole represented the staff a patient grasped to hasten the blood flow.

The stripes grew out of the bandages used in France during medical procedures. Hung outside the theater of operations to dry, bandages would blow in the wind and wrap themselves around the pole in a spiral pattern. A painted wooden pole of red and white stripes replaced this as an emblem of the barber/surgeon’s profession, then the mesmerizing mobile ones: “On countless noons Will had stood here trying to unravel that ribbon, watch it come, go, end without ending.”