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In the Beginning

by Anne Pierson Wiese

There was the famous photographer, Walker Evans,
who started by photographing old signs and ended
by filling his bathtub with them and washing
himself in the kitchen sink.  There was the Harlem
man whose pet tiger cub grew so big that first
his family and finally he himself fled
the 12th-floor, three-bedroom apartment in the housing
project, returning every day to fling raw chickens
through a crack in the front door.  Love displaces

everything.  All over the city the signs peer
from beneath modern facades, fade in the sun and rain
high up on sides of buildings: BEST QUALITY TWINE.  Ghosts
on brick, cockeyed atop demolition dumpsters, tin
worn delicate as paper, pale lettered—mint,
INQUIRE ON PREMISES.  If you stare at them words
are faces; everyone who ever spelled them out,
ever debated whether to buy twine or rent
an apartment fades up into view wearing shadowy
Homburgs, black veils, parcels in their arms, the winter
air freshening for snow.  Or imagine the face
of a tiger waiting behind a thin metal door,
your furniture demolished, your family living
on friends’ floors, your neighbors smelling urine and fur
and losing their tolerance, a policeman
rappelling outside your windows with a dart gun.

Imagine a hunger for the invisible world
so deep it must have existed before you were born.

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