DeWitt Henry


As noun: surface, aspect, front.
Facade.  Put on your best.
“The moment I wake up,
Before I put on my make up,”
sings Aretha Franklin.
Mirror stage, reflection.  Narcissus.
Social I.D.  First impression.
Young and smooth, fresh;
wizened, shrunken, lined.
“On an empty face,” writes Gorki,
“even a scar is an event.”

At fiftieth reunion, I search strange faces
for recognition.  Familiar features
slowly rise.  Is it you, me?
Are you in there?  Friendly?
Name to face, face to name.

As verb: confront.  Affront.
Face to face.  About-face!
Make a face, disgust or joy.
Two-faced.  Baby Face Nelson.
See past and future, Janus-faced.

Funny: stretched mouth, red ball nose,
oval eyes.  Expressive or un-.
Poker face.  Deadpan.  Bare-faced.
Can’t keep a straight one?  Actors need many.

My sculptor-nephew’s series of
plaster masks, inspired by Ancient Greek
performers’ masks and those of
Japanese Noh, have hung
on my sister’s wall since his death.
My favorite wears mirrored sunglasses;
another, fingers knit, covers
its eyes like the first monkey;
a third yawns with hippo mouth
echoed in nostrils, eyes half-lidded.
A fourth has yellow, hollowed eyes,
mouth pursed and set, while cracks
spread across cheeks, nose, temples
and forehead, like earthquake rifts.

Face paint.  War paint.
Faceless mob.  Pale.  Red.
Pandemic’s PPE.  Nothing to read but eyes.

On the face of things.
Effrontery.  Emojis.  Sketch artist.
Mug book.  Yearbook.  Facebook.
Face the music.  Phantom of the Opera.
Stephen Crane’s “The Monster”:
“His face had…been burned away….”

Half her jaw lost to cancer,
and after years of failed restorations,
Lucy Grealy learned to face up to her face.
Face down others.  Keep face.

Perseus beheads Medusa with a blow
directed by reflection in his shield.
Then drops the head in a sack,
careful not to look or turn to stone.

Look me in the face.  Say that again to my face.
Drones, or bombs from 30,000 feet.

The blind, or lovers in dark,
trace ours with their fingertips.

Lincoln closed his eyes, while being
greased with vaseline, then
bandaged with plaster-saturated gauze;
breathed through nostril holes
until the plaster set.  At Huntington Museum,
accustomed to the photographs and paintings,
I’m startled by his life mask on display:
creases, warts, eyebrows, and all,
life-size, intimate, 3-D.
And then another, after death: older,
bearded, skin and mouth gone slack.

Fac-similes.  Likenesses.

Children’s fleeting as they grow.
The plaster sculpture of my wife’s,
age six, an heirloom
on our family shelves through
child-raising and grand-parenting.
Her father, before his moving out,
had had her pose, his favorite of four;
sculpted from clay on armature;
then cast.  I recognize her now,
heavy in my hands.  Beloved.

Webster “saw the skull beneath the skin.”

Here come the scary ones,
S.W.A.T.-teamers, robbers, klansmen, executioner.
Humanity obscured.

“Happy, happy, happy, happy face…”
“Though your face is charming, it’s the wrong face….”
In masquerade, the familiar voice.