“Wood Wound Pareidolia,” “Gravity,” and “August 6 with Kokeshi Dolls”

“Wood Wound Pareidolia,” “Gravity,” and “August 6 with Kokeshi Dolls”

Wood Wound Pareidolia

The possible face stares back at me

from across the weedy, ragged backyard,

its dark grey oval rising from the darker

striated bark of the sweetgum.

I suffer, perhaps, from chronic face

pareidolia, that strange condition

of seeing faces in things inanimate—

a ceiling tile, a stained wall, a dish—

so be it, my revelations are my own,

like this tree face that demands

attention, wants to be seen, be heard

perhaps, even for its too-silent voice.

Decades ago, some cutter severed

a low-slung limb, leaving the bare

oval of tanned inner wood to suffer

the air, the heat, the angry winter wind,

and now it has evolved this face, as

tree tissues grew a bulging oval shape

around a remaining small dark space—

fat forehead and cheeks surrounding

the two small eyes, the concave nose,

the silent and reluctant mouth—so now

it faces me, stares me down, demands

to know answers to unvoiced inquiries.

It seems a Druid’s carving from an ancient

Celtic woods, or a shadow form of that

Burkina Faso mask at the museum,

unreadable as the female Noh face,

with faded smile, displayed in Boston

long ago—carrying, as well, the ghosts

of all the faces I have lost along the way.

The garden manual claims wood wounds

don’t heal but “compartmentalize,”

so we are brothers, then, in growing bark

barriers between awareness and our scars.

This opposing face never turns away,

is unrelenting in its stare, will not release

me from my obligations to a long-suffering

past. What does it claim? That wounds persist

but life, awkward, wayward life, continues?

That branches still rise, leafed or barren,

to a new sky at dawn? That roots, undeterred,

still curl and crawl through stiff and

unforgiving clay layered beneath the soil?

“Go, tell the world” this tree cross speaks

for itself, barren even of a god or saint,

tells us that wood wounds write prophecy

and epitaph, bids us read and remember.


You feel though do not see this power,

that’s the measure of it, so it seems—

they keep searching the cosmos, physicists,

and some say it isn’t even there,

not a force at all—engineers disagree.

Newton to Einstein to Hawking,

double-play combination on gravity’s field,

but they throw the ball not knowing fully

what it is or how or why, just keep playing—

we in the stands still duck the angry foul.

Just a name for the thing that hides underfoot,

the curious creature that, year by year,

pulls us earthward by the weight of sins or fate,

and makes it harder every time to rise

and live again in the space of free motion.

Time takes its toll, conspiring with the beast,

and together they curve and distort trajectories

and orbits, till we tumble against each other

and into our errant selves, confused, sometimes

shattered with the weight we cannot define.

I believe in it, have felt its insistent pull

every autumn, when cleaning leaves and branches—

from a roof even as low-pitched as mine, it pulls

my arm, wobbles and wavers my sight, and suggests,

ever slightly, I might as well submit and fall right now.

August 6 with Kokeshi Dolls

Now cleaning the empty room

of the daughter married and moved,

we find all manner of small artifact,

relics of her former passions—

souvenirs of schools or travel, photos

from days with karate or choir.

Also, on the shelf built by her

grandfather, dead now for a year,

her collection of kokeshi dolls—

those small, Japanese figurines

carved and painted so simply,

standing on a pedestal body

but with no obvious arms or legs.

Some are taller, others like children,

tiny but with features that mirror

their parental figures, and all quiet

and meditative, silent watchers.

My wife has worked all summer

marshalling most miniature objects

carefully into plastic boxes, labeled

for storage in the house’s lower level.

Not the kokeshi dolls, however, which

she arranged like a miniature family

awaiting a group portrait for a holiday

atop the cherry-wood side-table, also

of the grandfather’s craft, beneath

the Chinese scroll in the living room.

Too bad, because the hyperactive dog,

always in motion, daily rocks the table,

carelessly spilling the wooden family

so they lie scattered, staring upward

at the ceiling, silently judging

that sudden excess of violent force.

About the Author

Vincent Casaregola

Vincent Casaregola teaches American literature and film, creative writing, rhetorical studies, and composition at Saint Louis University. Recently, he has published poetry in a number of journals, including The Bellevue Literary Review, The Examined Life, Natural Bridge, WLA, Dappled Things, 2River, Work, Lifelines, and Blood and Thunder. Some time ago, he had published creative nonfiction in New Letters and The North American Review.