Gary Fincke: “The Face-Blind”


     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.

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