Incidental: Seeing Faces
Uccello, c.1438-40, ‘Battle of San Romano’, the Louvre panel
I can’t not see it; the face once formed
I can only meet again in recognition; it hovers
an agreeable Horrour. It takes
for its eyes the slight openings
of soldiers’ helms, its red mandrill nose bridge
a length of painted lance, its bared teeth the bronze discs strung
along a horse’s browband. I see it because I’m averse
through tiredness, modernity,
to making any sense of the action.
The upright lances induce in the whole formation
a wobble, the way of human-turned wood,
unyielding but uncertain in the elements.
There is an enjamb of horses
being turned by humans, snagging on
each other’s articulated finery.
Uccello is still torn between a love of surface
and that new mistress with the sweet-spot,
one-point perspective: both claim each line
for its masculine cause or feminine upkeep.
Peace is surface decoration. Sex is a horse haunch
turned to face. War is a one-point perspective.
The problem with allegory, it longs
for a one-to-one with reality, a true romancing.
The mandrill face, unlike,
is fit for seeing not meaning.
Call it primitive, but then it will turn up
at the telos party. All our bright-bitted technologies
will throw us—still wildly asserting our bodies
through space—in front of this mandrill
mid-saying: ‘if you misuse me for a
beginning or end I’ll let that happen too.’
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