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Ways of Looking

That practiced glaze
is of a leaping frog's eye
membrane shrouded
in mid-plunge, a sudden case
of cataract. Children don't get it;

it takes work to emulate
the cowed head of the vassal, to drain
the blood at the instant,
relax the facial muscles
to a pasty non-focused absence
until sightlines no longer mesh.
This must be

a more recent development; one can't
presume, in days when equal
facing unknown equal could be
respite from the pained avoidance
of eye of lord or emperor,
such a meeting would be celebrated
by tacit mutual assumption
of ambulatory mummification.
Now we are slaves as kings; the optic nerve

carries a modern improvement: a chance
glance, and its signal is intercepted,
ferried quickly by a tidy white-gloved maître d'
whose cultured accent and dainty eyebrows
escort, with a splayed-fingered pinch
of each tensing shoulder, breathing
past the cloakroom and the silver trays
and out beneath the awning, pausing
to primly draw the membrane down
with a brisk, motionless flourish.


Nov. '99

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