Self-portrait as 1879–1934; Self-portrait Toward a Fugue [No. ___ in ___♭Minor]

Michael Wasson

Self-portrait as 1879–1934

It has darkened here only because the light inside
the room. Now place your hand there. See. That—

no, this—this is your face & so: what are you
but a citizen of this nation
you were born into

by no hands of your own. Like the architecture
of briefly lit chapels, you stand here so silent

you’re already another century broken
in two. Your mouth looks just like your father’s

when he was still alive, crying. Four white walls
in the dark. How his skin felt of scratched chalk-

board with each new written version of him
now so American: his name sparing his one blood-

red life. & see your mother kneeling at this quiet
cage of crushed windows that held the last image

of her black hair. Say you see nothing in this
language & everything inside ’iníise pewíski, ne’é.

ne’é? This tongue of animals you give to the open
night. Like a lungful of gnashed syllables rusted

to the throat. Say c’éewc’ew like a promise made
of bone—because after the body, what’s left

is bone. The jaw opened wide enough to say your
like a wildfire spreading through your home-

land every summer when you are left to stand
in its pine forest. & god. The forest. Save me,

my lost savior. Save the boy who sees the blood
inside him. The forest. How it means: shadows

learning to breathe again—the disgraced light
here. It means all these branches are clotheslines

where nothing hangs anymore. It means you
touching the mirror is enough to crack apart

every America you’ve known since. It means no-
body is here. It means the ash in the dirt blown

to air was the braided hair of your ghosts longing
to welcome you back. Which is to say: yes, every-

one is here.

Self-portrait Toward a Fugue [No. ___ in ___♭Minor]

In my wildest dreams, there I am
held in the arms of my country: a country leaving
me with the crushed shine of a man’s shadow: where I am
a boy again surrounded by my god’s
failure of a forest: where the bodies of men are
silhouettes slipping their fingers
down my throat: I say I will change the world
in my wildest dreams—which means the bullets loaded
in my mouth are only teeth: & only crooked teeth
& not the white lilac-
like stains leading me to a window: so clear
in my wildest dreams, my hands are like this:
gone—fingerprints the braille of a mouth
reading touch & moving like sound emptied
into a perfectly rounded hole: my wildest dreams
I forget the colors left behind
my eyelids: & the blinking of every eye-
witness—the murderers held so close
I swear they’re in my hands: in the window
my skin is turned to
a human-shaped doorway—I shatter
what light has done to me: in my wildest dreams
where the given body is a form of flight
& in this latest version I step into
the wreckage, to find the other side of
me blooming toward you.

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