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Published: Wed Jul 1 2009
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas

First of all, the eyes: African trader
beads strung on eyesight’s black shoelaces.
The eyebrows ridge up like a cave
or is it a bulkhead-forehead with
a hair-shock wild as a haystack?
An old boxing scar cinches
one crooked eye, and a ski-jump nose-tip
is pouting over an old parental sleight.
Don’t forget sixty stitches from Africa
he calls his red badge of beauty mark.

A dogged and deliberate mouth
rests politely, aggressively shyly
on a grocer’s chin and jaw.
The broken pug-nose, however,
adjusts the whole face to a look
of leonine insouciance,
whose frown seems gentle somehow
even as an indifferent tongue slides
along its chops and the jawbone clamps
down, jowly-Churchill-like, determined
to chew to the marrow of things,
in this case the poem’s crudescence,
its crude existence.
Poetry has become his mask
and it’s melted right into his face
as he threw his mirror over his left shoulder
for good luck and just for the hell of it.

Andrew H. Oerke was a Peace Corps director in Africa and the Caribbean, and for many years president of a private and voluntary organization, working in and visiting more than 160 countries. In 1966 in Kenya, Mr. Oerke started microcredit programs for small enterprise in poverty; later, he initiated microcredit programs in more than sixty nations around the world. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, AGNI online, The New Republic, Poetry, and in many other publications in the U.S., England, France, Germany, Lebanon, Kenya, the Philippines, and elsewhere. In 2003, he was given the award for literature by the U.N. Society of Writers and Artists. His collection San Miguel De Allende (Swan Books, 2005) won the 2006 Peace Corps Writers Award. He spent time in Haiti in 2010, coordinating medical assistance for earthquake victims. (updated 12/2012)

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