Prosopagnosia—the inability to recognize faces
Because the rich detail of each face can
Be so frail, because all that’s remembered
Of even the familiar is the brief
Chorus of its anthem, now, in this blue
Morning, I’m working at preservation,
Taking this self-taught instruction from when,
Happening on a crying child, I knelt
To ask that girl the lost questions, her name,
Who had mislaid her in Gimbel’s, a store
That featured thirteen floors of merchandise.
Toys were above everything but furniture,
But we were on the first floor with perfume,
Cosmetics, and well-dressed saleswomen who
Offered samples. Security, like her mother,
Was somewhere else, but when she clutched my hand,
Such evidence of terrible intent
Was suggested by a choice of exits,
I half-expected an abduction alarm.
No one hailed that girl or me, not even
When we approached the gilded, outside doors.
The air was funereal, the shoppers
Old women who had driven to Pittsburgh
Since World War II, so few of them by then
The store was rumored bankrupt. The day before,
A local woman had revealed she could not
Recognize faces: Her daughter’s teacher.
A friend from church. The identities of wait staff.
Her daughter, seven, prompted the names
Of neighbors, reminded her which friends
Had arrived for sleepovers. Like a bride
Receiving guests, she’d taught herself to smile.
A wonder we recognize anyone,
She said, so much we have in common,
Believable, earlier today, when
I was twice greeted by name and could not
Cough up recognition, when a stranger
In a park, this summer, called out to my wife
And me, mentioning a class reunion,
And I slowed to fumble for a lost name
Until my wife tugged me past a sentinel
Into a crowded, well-lit path, hissing
As if she were teaching a child who still
Searched the mug book of the everyday
For the identity of those to fear.
Each blessing is lace. A woman, at last,
Recognized her granddaughter’s trusting face.
Gary Fincke’s newest collection, The Infinity Room, won the Wheelbarrow Books/Michigan State University Press Prize for Established Poets and will be published early in 2019. His latest book is a collection of personal essays The Darkness Call, which won the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose and was just published by Pleiades Press.