They Would Not Understand

A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions byRuth Krauss, pictures by Maurice Sendak

The Face

by Franz Wright, from Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems

Is there a single thing in nature
that can approach in mystery
the absolute uniqueness of any human face, first, then  
its transformation from childhood to old age—

We are surrounded at every instant  
by sights that ought to strike the sane  
unbenumbed person tongue-tied, mute  
with gratitude and terror. However,

there may be three sane people on earth  
at any given time: and if
you got the chance to ask them how they do it,  
they would not understand.

I think they might just stare at you
with the embarrassment of pity. Maybe smile
the way you do when children suddenly reveal a secret  
preoccupation with their origins, careful not to cause them shame,

on the contrary, to evince the great congratulating pleasure  
one feels in the presence of a superior talent and intelligence;  
or simply as one smiles to greet a friend who’s waking up,
to prove no harm awaits him, you’ve dealt with and banished all harm.


See also: "Small Thoughts in Big Brains," from This American Life, July 22, 2004