Wendy S. Walters

In Search of the Face

A woman I thought was friend
kept calling me “impeccable”

At first I mistook the word for a compliment
Eventually I realized her observation
was cruel scrutiny so I set out to see myself
from every angle

This is how I discovered I am spherical,
a ball bouncing over words
illustrating a song

It goes like this


+ + +

I am thirteen. My neighbor, Mrs. Minetti,
calls my mother and asks her to send me over
to help with a few chores around the house

Her son is dead

She has a daughter living in West Virginia
who will not speak to her

She calls me over because I am about the same age
her daughter was the first time she ran away

Mrs. Minetti tells me how kids ruin
even a very good marriage
and how much a mother can love a daughter
even if the daughter turns out to be a little whore
Then she pays me five dollars and sends me home

+ + +

While standing in the bookstore
pictures of elderly seniors having sex
get me aroused

I am not embarrassed admitting
a preference for loose skin

+ + +

My friend and I sit at a café to catch up
on the past year. Since I’ve last seen her,
she has lost her husband and a kidney
I have gotten a new pair of glasses

After a couple of cups of extra sweet tea,
we each confess how we kill love

I learned my technique from a short story,
you know how it goes—

I take love down into the basement,
get it drunk on cheap sherry

Once it’s asleep,
I brick up the door to the cellar

My friend kills love
by putting it into a lobster cage,
then rowing out to the middle of the ocean

When she drops the cage into cold waters,
she says


+ + +

A friend of a friend of mine thought
he fell in love with me
He was getting over
an addiction to sugar

and I can be terribly sweet

In the meantime

A new woman came to town
who looked just like me,
except for the fact
she was the daughter
of a famous comedian
One day I found her and my friend’s friend
having sex in the faculty lounge

They did a pretty good job

+ + +

I am on my way to Boston
A girl on the bus singing in Spanish
has the worst voice I’ve ever heard

I write down reasons
why I probably love you
and hate myself
for falling for any song
no matter how awful it sounds

+ + +

a head
a face
a ball
a bounce

a joke
a dress
a wish
a wall

a wrong
a game
a fall
a sea

a dish
a song
a bus
a tree

+ + +

The composer gave a lecture on his new opera

We had arranged for a special dinner in his honor,
but he was otherwise committed
to spending the evening with friends,
he said

I conveyed his regrets,
called him a cab

then walked the long way home
past an empty Chinese restaurant
where I saw him sitting alone

One half-eaten plate of spareribs
beside an empty bottle of beer

+ + +

Often I find myself falling for men
who cannot handle themselves
I watch them become their own shadow

Out of sight, out of mind

Some men climb out of my mind
as if they were fleeing a flooded sewer
They twist open my ear,
a wrought-iron gate,

to scamper down my neck
or up across my forehead
The stink on them may last for years

The stink on me?

Tiny indelible footprints
heading off in every direction

+ + +

At a dinner party I am told I sound
just like a famous comedienne
Around the table, my friends nod
to note their agreement

I have never found her funny,
and I tell them this
They say

See! You sound just like her—

+ + +

In the state park just off Route-146,
a man has been showing his penis to women

I want to take a look!
On the way there I drive past

The Rustic, a drive-through movie
house where I saw my first porno
with my third boyfriend, Steve,
who got arrested later that same
summer for stealing a human head
from Kellett’s Cemetery

He claimed he found it at the edge
of the river and cleaned it
with bleach and peroxide
before deciding
to use it as a bong

I’m not kidding—

+ + +

You know, I was surprised
as the rest of you
when she walked in
carrying the baby

Not just a baby,
but a baby with two heads!

+ + +

My sister called, checking to see
if I was feeling normal
I read her a section from my essay,
“In Search of the Face,”
said she could decide for herself

Just then she was almost killed
by a Detroit Transit Bus
coming down the wrong side of the road

The bus driver was searching
for seniors making out
in the park after dark

He wanted to make sure
everyone got home safely

He wanted to make sure
everyone was using protection

+ + +

My first night alone in the house,
I heard sobbing coming from the basement
When I got there, I noticed
the doorframe to the fruit cellar
had been bricked shut

I grabbed a sledgehammer
from the wall of tools Mr. Melikian left
when he sold me the place
I struck at the wall
until I made a hole big enough
to hear a voice
It was a face

I took off my dress
handed it to him
to wipe his tears
then brought him
to my kitchen

asked if he wanted something to eat

Two scrambled eggs

+ + +

A red balloon trapped
in the branches of a tree
outside my office window
Two boys walking home
without coats

Pointing up to the balloon
being tossed by March wind,
one boy says to the other

That’s my tongue

+ + +

Thursday night,
driving to pick up dinner:
one Chinese vegetable soup,
one shrimp egg roll, please—

A boy standing in the middle of the road
gives the finger to his friend
who shouts from the top balcony
of a robin’s-egg-blue triple-decker house

I slow down,
let the boy hurry to the sidewalk
As I pass him,
he makes a motion with his hips
to suggest having sex
with my car

His gesture,
a poor articulation of seduction,
makes me lonely
so I park at the corner,
get out,
beckon him over

Facing the passenger-side rearview
I move my pelvis
as if scooping ice cream

I tell him

This is how you wear it down—
and really put my ass into it

+ + +

In my hometown a man offered
an undercover police officer
T-bone steaks in exchange for sex
Because he didn’t have any on him,
he promised to pay the next day—

By the way, solicitation also means
to seek to obtain by persuasion

and the allure of humility plus gusto
is often underestimated

By the way, his mug-shot
made the 11 pm local news

as if to say, when you are bartering
sex for meat, there’s no messing around

You have got to pay up-front

+ + +

Turns out my friend found her baby
on the steps of the Laundromat she works at
in Brooklyn

I couldn’t help myself and had to ask
How do you know who to love?

I said
(not leaving well-enough alone)

If two heads,
then which face?

+ + +

My neighbors made a list
of improvements they thought
I should make to my home
and also let me know
that my hair was in need
of some work

To excuse their cruel scrutiny,
they brought steaks to sear
on my mini-grill
So we were all sitting
around in the backyard
chewing the fat
when they started to take notes
on with what’s wrong with my face

+ + +

Stand-up is harder than you think

My first joke had a long lead in
about a businessman on a trip
to some foreign port-of-call
with a few changes I made
due to the fact that the joke is offensive
to anyone named Wendy and
a usual overemphasis on the penis

It went like this

A man far away from home
discovered his worst fear to be true—
that compared to most men in the world
he was, in fact,
very small

Nobody laughed
so I told it again

+ + +

Grand Central Station,
the information booth
my friend waited to introduce her new baby
to her mother

While watching the broken clock
my friend held her daughter close
I am sure of that,
though she did not notice
when one of her baby’s heads
rolled off

+ + +

Imagine you loved anyone
In the morning you might wake up,
think of all the dances you learned last night,
but not a step comes back to you
Even your walk seems massive and zero
This is when you realize your body
is still tucked inside someone else’s,
as it has always been

Still you do move

+ + +

While I was waiting out the dryer cycle
in the Laundromat with Call-Me-Mary
from Dublin (no joke),
who didn’t like to wash
her elderly neighbor’s intimate apparel
in her own machine,
my friend came in with her baby

I said

Aren’t you missing someone?

Call-Me-Mary said

What happened to the other head?
My friend said we were mistaken,
her daughter had always been
an average baby,

just one face

+ + +

I am waiting outside the train station
for a friend to arrive from Chicago
A taxi driver throws old bread
to pigeons that gather
outside the vestibule

From his car he watches passengers
hurry in, hurry out
No one smiles

A girl of maybe five or six years,
who looks too small to be alone,
carries a bright red backpack
and looks as if she is about to tell him

He thinks he recognizes her but from where?

As is so often the case between strangers
who might love each other,
nothing happens between them

The girl enters the train station and finds
her way down to the track
She boards a train
She knows where she is going

The taxi driver puts an older man’s
suitcase in the trunk of his cab

The older man is embarrassed to have needed help,
the driver pretends not to have noticed

+ + +

I am cleaning my glasses when a man I’ve never met
rings my doorbell. I open it, and he says:

You know me?

I think I recognize the face, so I say

Come on in. Can I get you a drink?

He confesses how many times
he meant to pick up the phone and call
but hopes I had been getting news
he was alright,
not just alright
but doing fantastically well—

He asks if I had seen his picture
on the cover of any magazines
at the grocery store,
and I do think he smells
a bit like the grocery store

He asks if I still miss him, and I say

Out of sight, out of mind

And so he goes on-and-on
about the dances he learned last night—

He tells me
he has been looking for me
for years, but now that he’s here
he can’t recall why

He tells me

I thought you were someone else

That’s when I push him towards the door
as if to say

Hey man, I’ve got no time to chat
about how you got lost—
I’ve got my own regrets,
my own suckers to blame

+ + +

Back when I was a little whore,
I left my tongue
in some teen-aged boy’s trousers or drawers

A soft bulge near the crotch

In order to say “trousers” or “drawers”
I had to go back and get it

+ + +

My sister calls from the shopping mall
She is auditioning talent for her television show,
Super Singers
She says there is a teen-aged girl
with the best voice she has ever heard
who looks a lot like me
She could even be my daughter,
and she’s singing this song I love

If the girl makes the cut,
she could compete
on a live local broadcast once a week
win ten thousand dollars
or a red convertible

The girl looks at the prompt
on the monitor,
tries to recall how the words
should fit together,
but they fall hard in all the wrong places
like a fistful of rice or pennies
thrown at a window

+ + +

My friend who works at the Laundromat
who always buttons cuffs, spots stains
and double-checks for loose change

was shaking out wrinkles
before the dryer cycle

one pair of khaki shorts,
a soft bulge near the crotch

she said reaching into the pocket

Another handful
of tiny, drowned men

+ + +

By the way, to find means

to recover something lost
to come upon by accident

as if to say
wherever you have left your head

it might still be
thinking of you

Wendy S. Walters teaches at the Eugene Lang College of the New School University. This poem is from Longer I Wait, More You Love Me (Palm Press, 2009). Visit her website: h o m e t o w n.


  1. Genius writing. Published in the right place. I feel much less discouraged about everything in the world than I did fifteen minutes ago.

  2. I mean, I mean: why bother with tricky words and obscurity and fancy enjambments and alliterations and all that junk when you actually have something (seemingly) simple and profoundly moving (and purely poetic) to say? This girl is Chekhov in America. Maybe Chekhov Americana. It doesn't matter. She's wonderful. Thank you, Sommer - now we can fall in love with this too. And oh, you too, Adam. And Ms. Walters I mean of course thank you.