Portrait with Self-Portrait

Under the bathroom lights,
I master
the art of the perfect selfie,
angle my face
so it looks like my face,
but not too much
like my face.
In this photo, I could be
on a beach,
in a museum, volunteering
at a nursing home.
You’d never guess by looking
I was at 7-Eleven,
ankle-deep in toilet water.
There are a few
different strategies when it comes
to hookup-apps,
some people set the bar low,
attempting to look worse
in their photos,
so when you show up
at their apartment,
you are pleasantly surprised
at the absence
of a ponytail.
Some people go to extremes
to alter the way they look,
smoothing their skin
into a blur of pixels.
Some men use their abs
or a hooked fish
as the focal point.
Some men remove
their face completely.
Decapitate themselves.
Rows & rows
of headless torsos
fill my screen.
Even in the gallery
of the beheaded,
you’ll find mouths to fill.
Tonight, when a faceless man
messages me,
I recognize him first
by his hands,
his wedding band,
remember the flat of his palm
against my mouth
even when I made no sound.
When I don’t respond
to his message, he reveals
his face—remember me?
as if I couldn’t
hear the head beneath
the cloche platter,
still saying I was lucky,
saying I should be grateful
he stayed when he saw me—
remember me?—this portrait,
the same one he used before,
the kind a man would take
not to make himself feel
handsome or beautiful,
but to prove he was important,
the kind of portrait he imagined
being carved
into a coin one day.
I learned early that a photograph
could be used as currency.
A man holds up the baby photo
in his wallet
& the gunman
redirects his aim.
Entire political careers
end between the white
borders of a polaroid.
Al Franken resigns.
Chris Lee resigns.
The Princess of Wales
died in the back
of a Mercedes
trying to escape
the aperture.
When I was younger
my mother would fan out
a collage of women
& ask me to choose a bride,
I didn’t, instead I tried
to become them,
draped myself
in the white of the exposure.
In their wedding photos,
my father grips
my mother’s face
& forces her to smile.
In Galveston Texas,
Leslie Ray Charping’s
children, write,
evil does in fact die,
in his obituary.
Does it?
Or does evil cast its light
(yes, light)
on everything it touches,
imprinting itself inside us,
an image we trace
into the dark.
Some men don’t care
about being missed.
Some men only want
to be remembered.
Some men stare
at their reflection
& dare it to stay.  

Hieu Minh Nguyen (from The Missouri Review)