“Facial Recognition” by Janice Zerfas

Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2018: Artist’s Choice


Through the Looking Glass by Melody Carr

Image: “Through the Looking Glass” by Melody Carr. “Facial Recognition” was written by Janice Zerfas for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2018, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Janice Zerfas


The real truth is that some of us don’t have
facial recognition, unable to recall
the goblet of a face. Then, we think of rain
falling so sparsely from the gutters that
we wonder if it is rain, especially if the face
is bunched with three pointed leaves
skimming across a pond. The attempt
to recognize begins with the quick look
across the cheekbones, so muddied
with a dirt caramel and studded goldfish
color, like this woman who stands in front
of a window casement chalk cradle white.
Then we identify the strip of the nose,
the soft mouth summing up a sound,
but it’s useless. We have no ability to
even make a forensic analysis
of her face, much less her cauterized eyebrow.
Her face is plaited with leaves and petals;
there’s even a third eye off in its placement—
but, still, all these clues and she’s still unrecalled.
What’s worse, there’s a bird-sniffing
revenant, or ghost, or maybe just her own
shadow behind her, leavening its reclusive
smoky compost. I look at her, and think
if a stranger looked at my face, as I am
glossing over hers, would they see
the morning birds that I listen for each a.m.,
how I look for anything turning over
even in a pallid wind,
or how my body stands in silence at
the bathroom window where I can
get a better view of wind tailings: especially
the dark sharp-shinned hawk,
eyeing the casement that I linger by,
wanting out of the rainfall.
I move to the side, hoping
the crush of leaves will disguise my looking.
It sidles up, giving me another way
to look at a face, my face, wanting.
When I first saw the hawk’s loose-filled
feathers, I thought I saw my own self.
Keep looking, I want to tell her.
Keep deciphering, the face will become
clearer, and the image will return to you.
Just say hello.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2018, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Melody Carr: “My favorite poem was ‘Facial Recognition.’ What I loved in this poem is that there is a level of truth in it that taught me something about the photograph I took, something that I felt with a shock of recognition, the way the poem carefully moves over the face in the photograph, in an almost tactile movement, finding so much truth in each place the poem touches on, and yet so much mystery remaining, hidden in the closest gloss. The ending of the poem reminds me a bit of a story. Kathleen Raine wrote that the mystical view is that there is not one universe with many beings, but instead there are multiple universes, but only one being. This is a wonderful thought to me. I used to go around and think when I would see people passing in cars, that each one was just a form of me in another universe, as I was of them. Everyone a strange universe, everyone me. And by the way, the photograph is a selfie—that’s me—in another universe—almost familiar, but unknown … and reading poems submitted in response to it was quite interesting. It was wonderful to have the chance to engage with a community of poets writing on the picture and delightful to read the poems that it inspired. Thanks to everyone who created their own vision of recognizing a face inspired by seeing the photo.”

Rattle Logo