Begin with a face, this casting pool set in bone,
——-where the other faces graze the surface
and slide, and who remembers what it was to begin,
——-who back then, if anyone, we were.
Always the shroud of a stranger across the chill
——-of the looking glass, and I am looking more
and more like my father and know I never get there.
——-The face on television says, we should open
our borders to Christians only, and somewhere a lonely man
——-says, yes, I feel that way. And one flame
flows into another, and who can tell them apart.
——-Who has not filled the empty holy landscape
of the margins. Everywhere the smoke of cities
——-and exclusionary spaces, where if you knock
the bodies on video feeds they sound like glass.
——-What a sound bite needs is a larger story with small
and smaller pieces, a girl, say, who stares
——-into the camera before the pan and fade,
though we know she is out there, the face among faces,
——-the Eucharist of imagined life.
Let me begin again. Time is priceless,
——-and we are always in the middle
of some covert conflict somewhere, caught
——-in the river of thousands pouring into thousands,
gathering in the makeshift city of widows
——-and tents, and there are limits to a body,
a nation, a sea. There are rivers drawn as mirages are
——-across the names of other waters,
and what is the use of words and images that come
——-so far and no farther, of the protest
song and broken camera abandoned in the sand.
——-Whose grains are these in the storm
blown back across our footsteps,
——-where the new planes carry their payload,
undetected, and have no people in them.
——-The words Christian or fire or covert conflict
have no people either, only jaws
——-to consume the bread of imagined life.
And as we talk, the body of us, in us, divides—
——-it must—longing to be whole.
Long ago they cut my father’s body open to accept
——-the harvest of a stranger’s heart.
When he woke, the hospital room smelled of chrome
——-and disinfectant, and he thought,
surely this is paradise, and his palpitations
——-spiked. Somewhere there is a flashlight
in the tunnel of your chest, a voice that cries,
——-who’s there, and no one answers. In time,
it says less and less, camouflaged in fibers;
——-the beam dims; words go deaf; the gape
of the ribcage swallows the Eucharist
——-in silence. Who is left to say where the stranger
draws its boundaries. Vein after vein
——-nets the vital muscle, and even the blood
of the incision is, as they say, connective tissue.
——-The bruise shade of the liver,
the spleen, the thyroid that is an outpost of the brain,
——-they are all braided like strangers
at the foot of a tower on fire. Like anger
——-flowing into anger and who can tell them apart.
America has no face. Or none I know. Let me begin again.
——-It is neither driver nor the mother
on the bus who pulls the string, not the chime,
——-not the echo, never the house
particular with debt and pills and bad news
——-from Ferguson or Beirut or some such holy land,
and the candidate who would wear our features says,
I open my heart, but homes are homes,
and I turn on him and lock my door behind me.
——-A Christian nation has no Christ,
and Christ no nation. Or none I know. I am looking
——-for a better song. I cast my vote
into the water to watch it slice across the larger picture.
——-One nation under God, a child says.
Beneath her hand, the anonymity of the personal,
——-the vital muscle, the fist, the first
to fear, the last to explain. Lord of the body,
——-peerless, eyeless, compelled.
I search the names on the ballot for the nameless.
——-I make my pledge.
To judge another’s words by what we know about the speaker
——-is to know neither speaker nor word.
So says a schoolbook a boy finds boring
——-and then he gets a beating from two strangers,
and as he hangs by his hair in the grasp of one,
——-he says nothing, he is losing faith in words,
he goes home and, once again, nothing, and over dinner,
——-nothing, and night after night, he lies
awake, and nothing comes. I am looking for a better song,
——-the kind that moves across the borders
in the old language. Or wades against the water
——-beneath the guns of the lookout, and what remains is
the vast unfathomed reaches of a sky. I am sorry
——-for everything I did and did not do,
I told my father in the end, and he was confused.
——-I still see that face among the many he wore,
buried in a music I could not hear, and I needed
——-my own to hear it. It felt enormous, this tune, and I
was small and smaller, and he was crossing over,
——-and he looked at me, my grief, as if it were a stranger.
In the song of the Eucharist of imagined life,
——-a girl stares into the camera, and the liquidation
of eyes and money spills from the anonymity
——-of the personal into the great collection plate.
Protesters take their guitars to the river, and one
——-tune flows into another, and whatever music does
and does not do, the girl who sings feels small and smaller,
——-and who are we to know. Somewhere
a theorist is writing a paper and feels it too: the longing
——-for greater detail, larger scope. Somewhere
a man eats the bread and feels absolved and little
——-changes or all things small and who are we to know.
Begin with a face. Yours or another’s. Little changes
——-gather downstream, beneath the eyes, and they have seen it,
the power of a song, how it just might pull a body through
——-the mirror, out some painful story or door,
into another. The refugees’ song carries something
——-of language over the river, and the river closes behind them
like a wound. It forgets. And in the song you hear it
——-running. And sometimes in their eyes, you see.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.