The Figures I Discern/ poem by Arthur Russell

Behind closed eyes, there is a darkness,
a darkness that can be altered 
by light from outside the eyelids, 
for example, sun on the beach that illuminates
the eyelids with a translucent glow,
and can make a red capillary crossing
the yellow eyelid visible.  

There are other irregularities
in the dark behind the eyelids
that seem to come from the inside,
perhaps low-voltage electrical discharges
from the brain or the eyes themselves,
like seeing into the dingy ballroom
of the eye’s globe, or catching the visual echo 
of activity elsewhere in the body.

Focus on these fragments of light 
and they may form into figures
that can sharpen into faces 
you think you remember
from movies or places in life:
a man with a goatee
on a path through a rose garden;
lovers leaning closer in a booth;
your dentist in a lab coat reading xrays?

Look closer, and almost as soon as they appear,
they begin to disintegrate, 
as though the mind’s hypothesis
collapsed on close inspection;

yet being abandoned by these images 
of people nearly recognized is real enough to 
set my eyes to search the gloom half frantically
to bring them back, to ask them who they were,
or if they know the others I have lost.


Arthur Russell is the winner of Brooklyn Poets Poem of the Year for 2015, and runner up for the same award in 2021. He won 2nd Place in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award for 2021.  He is one of the Gang of Six that manages readings, workshops and publications for the Red Wheelbarrow Poets of Rutherford, NJ.  His chapbook, “Unbent Trumpet” (Nutley Arts Press, 2017)

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