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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – Oct 04

October 6, 2016

Red Wheelbarrow Poets
Poem of the Week 10/04/2016

Arthur Russell

Faces

He was the brother to whom it fell
to sell his parents’ house, travelling down
to Charlottesville all those years, to visit
both, then one of them, then just the house.
In the room where he’d read books as a child,
other than the oxygen tank beside the recliner
that replaced the wing chair he liked,
very little had changed.

The innocence and scent had long since drained
from the dried hydrangeas and lilacs
in Roycroft vases on the glass front bookcase.
Floor-length brocade drapes hung shut, as always.
Light from leaded glass sconces above the mantle,
the same lamps he’d read by, lit an oil painting
of a clipper ship, square rigged, lunging forward
under a white sky and a chopped, green sea.

There were secret faces in the abstract pattern
of the wallpaper. He saw the first one
when he was seven, partial as the moon
behind a scrim of trees. He froze,
pretended to ignore, then peeked again, and saw
a whole tribe of faces around the room,
with crayon jaws and heavy eyes,

most somewhat obscured by drapes or chairs;
but the first one, over the radiator,
like an Easter Island moai, was his man,
the one he stared down, the one he reckoned
and then parlayed with, his counterpart,
the general and chief of the faces,
and though they never spoke, they did confer,
with eyes, on the articles of his leaving.

When, married, divorced and married again,
with a stepson playing football for State,
he returned to empty and sell the house,
he made his phone calls from the chair
beside the oxygen tank across from the chief
of the faces, who had a scarred cheek
from a raised seam in the paper after
years of darkening heat from the radiator.

This is how life found him that November,
talking to his sister in New York, to a broker
from Weichert and to Goodwill for a pickup date,
and gazing at the moai on the walls,
a sort of a class photograph.

The books he’d read were safe within him,
although dispersed by time.

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