Face: Me

On Glenn Ligon’s "Palindrome #1"

As a freshman I was fat, friendless, and lonely. To entertain upperclassmen — to secure friendships absent love or support — I learned to form a face in my stomach and show it on command. The face was easy to make: I would grab my gut, thumbs above the belly button, the other fingers below, and squeeze, creasing my stomach with both index fingers, the fat forming a mouth lipped with tubes of rubbery skin. My tits were the eyes. A cluster of freckles the nose. The face was named The Face. My name was forgotten. People called me Face, always Face, as if my stomach had preceded me, as if I were its afterthought, its vessel, its amenable golem.

“Look! Look!” A teenage girl drags two boys into a darkened room in the Phoenix Art Museum, where Glenn Ligon’s Palindrome #1 glowed on the wall. “I love this! I love this!” she says. She is slender and tall, dressed in a leather jacket, black jeans. Crooked teeth. Angled canines muscling out the incisors. She is the type of girl whom I would’ve loved from a distance in high school. And watching her joyfully twist in front of Palindrome #1, time threads together and I am eighteen, again, intimidated both by her libertine beauty and by Ligon’s FACE on the wall.

Every day at lunch I showed The Face to the upperclassmen. The upperclassmen loved feeding The Face: they jammed pizza or Hostess or mustardy hoagie into my gut. We all had a good laugh. Then the upperclassmen talked about parties, the women they wanted to fuck. And I would roll my shirt back over my stomach and lean closer, hoping for an invitation, hoping for conversations that weren’t commands.

Palindrome #1 reads: Face Me I Face You. It is written in white neon lights. Standing in front of Palindrome #1, long after the high school girl and her friends depart, I cautiously mutter the phrase — Face Me I Face You — repeating the meaning out of the words until its logic deforms into rhythm. The shape of the words continues to work on me, FACE buzzing like so many bees filling the room.

As a sophomore in high school I lost a great deal of weight. Despite this, the name, The Face, stuck to me like a rumor of family transgressions. But this is the way of language: it outlives its referents. I would remain Face until graduating, when I fled.

The strength of a name: Even buried, fled from, the slightest reference exhumes the feeling it once evoked. Ten years have passed. Yet: Face Me I Face You Face Me I Face You Face Me I Face You. Face Me I Face You is not a palindrome, yet its enactment would be: Two faces across from each other endlessly twisting, each telling one to turn and face the other as each turns at the wrong moment, unable to form that image of faces reflecting.

I stand in the darkened room alone. Palindrome #1 lonesomely glows. With two fingers I touch the flat of my stomach. Muscle and bone edge the underside of my skin. Face me. Face me.

The Mermaid

"You are at the kitchen table dicing a cucumber for Tia Reina’s ceviche."