Tacit Dignity ( a cento, inspired by the work of Matthew S. Barton)

I really want to hear this silence
all I hear is my own echo
another orphan
eavesdropping on unanswered questions
but there are no more nickels
no comfort in the early morning stillness
blurred at the edges
I send them home
my body doubles and stand ins
any excuse to wear a mask
careful not to let anyone look over my shoulder
a hand tailored facsimile of grace
forgiveness seems so unnecessary



He was twelve when he first realized he could remove his face;
set it calmly aside
reattach it at will.
Shocked he hadn’t noticed it earlier,
hadn’t felt the small, sturdy latches just behind his ears
Hands trembled
fumbled the first latch,
pressed it forward,
met its spring-loaded resistance


overcame the tension
released into ecstasy that joy of perfect anonymity.

For years he would only remove his face when he was alone
in the bathroom
holding that limp flesh in his hands
part of him.

Much more malleable off the skull than on,
released from the tension of adhering to phrenological cartography.

He was twenty when he learned he could make more of them
read Elliot in an English class,
fell in love,
began his life’s work.
Prepared faces to meet other faces
sometimes braver
sometimes faces that looked at the sun,
burned out their retinas, saw only fireworks
faces that always wept
that smiled
that listened attentively
that offered sage advice

Warehoused them,
carefully labelled,
each honest if not always true,
they piled like snow drifts.
filled closets.
used them as blankets,
covered his feet in the small hours
began to fear opening the door
they started to spill out,
no room left under the rug,
their weight cumulative, inevitable
the barest whisper
inaudible among the faces
each soundlessly asking the question


Began with a river rock,
fit nicely in his pocket,
its weight reassuring,
discovered hematite
put them in his coffee,
dared himself to choke
let them click on his teeth
imagined himself a spy
on a hotel balcony in paris
Found amethysts at an estate sale
reminded him of easter
he put them in shirt pockets
a kindly grandfather
passing them to wide-eyed youngsters
bouncing on sore and gentle knees
agates, thickly veined
volcanic tree-rings
sat them on yellowed pages
paper weights in the
mausoleum stillness of private libraries
Tucked a small pearl
into the hollow of his cheek
they added gravity to his speech
kept him from noticing the terrible thirst
pyrite abraded his ankle
blister-tight rolled in his sock,
the discomfort a substitute pain
didn’t notice the first trickle
glacier slow,
viscous amber stillness