Monday Dec 04

WagenaarChelsea Chelsea Wagenaar is the 2013 winner of the Philip Levine Prize for her first collection of poems, Mercy Spurs the Bone, which is forthcoming from Anhinga Press in November 2014.  She is a doctoral fellow at the University of North Texas, where she also teaches.  Her poems have appeared or been accepted recently by Mid-American Review, Plume, TriQuarterly, and The Journal.  She lives in Denton, Texas, with her husband, fellow poet Mark Wagenaar.


Brief History of the Face

What I like is the way a face can be seen,
touched, heard—parting of lips,
slap of hand to cheek. A face can be carried.
When my neighbor went to Afghanistan,
a grenade blew up in his face so he pocketed
his eyeball for the mile walk back to camp.
A face is honest: the eyes dilating,
brow damp, cheeks splotched, hot.
It can be opened: my forehead parted
like a curtain, glare of bone, blood on my shoes.
A face can be refused. At first my mother was afraid
to tell me my father only made it as far
as the hospital parking lot the day of my birth,
never came inside to see or touch me.
In the photo I do not have of him,
his face harbors mine
the way water holds a gaze for as long
as it will look. A face can be commanded:
turn and face me, my mother said
when my sister asked why my nose was different.
Why my hair was thin and dark.
Because it has to be, she said.
Because is what a mother says when one daughter
has a father and the other does not.
But a face can say because too.
Because of your nose, mine.
Because you did not look,
I look and look. Because you are
no one, you are anyone—
turned-away flesh of my flesh,
the endless possibility of you.


This is to be an eyeball: his eyeball:
now his quicksilver feet, now mallards swooping
for fists of bread as he tosses. When my brother calls,
it is not to say hello but to see hello. To show me
he is the fastest boy in first grade,
to hold my face on the screen in his erratic hand.
Together we scale the neighbor’s fence,
my face looking at me looking
at what he sees. Ready, set, go, he sprints us
through unmown fields, his thumb obscuring
the pinhole camera, my thumb face miniature,
stark against the deep black screen. To give
time a face, to time the face as it changes.
He clamors toward what only he can see.
Soon he will lift his thumb. But for now
I wait in the threshold of who he is
and will be, his voice calling out
in the sweetness of his offering, to let me see,
to take me with him.


You are trailing somewhere behind me
on our walk, the first warm day of spring,

when I see it: heavy-lidded, unblinking
gape in the large faux eyes of a silk moth.

So darkly ringed. Brash, I think.
She is a woman who wants to be seen,

orbited by each face in a crowded room.
But how her hairstrand legs graze

invisibly the sweetgum bark—
her cryptic wings would keep me

from them, would tell me where
to look. No, not brash—her real gaze

is a secret. Even now, you crash
through the buttonweed and bluebonnets

toward me, in love, as I am
with the eyespot world. What is it

to be too touched, too seen? Look,
her cosmetic eyes brood, don’t look.