Richard Fein

Putties are the recent past…

Putties are the recent past. Their spiral strips

(like bandages that precede the wound)

are just beyond my touch, though once they wrapped

the shins of Uncle Jake, who forked his meat beside me.

Putties are not the past of toga, tricorn, gauntlet,

bestowed in the vitrine where they drape or lie.

Putties are not the ice box, with the heavy latch,

because I’ve seen that go, as I’ve seen millinery

put on a veil and go out the door, or watched

my father’s tambour thunder up and out of sight.

Nor are putties like the things that come back —

a knicknack, gadget or garment that capitalism,

fashion, engineering or our daily domestic order

compels reviving — money in the market-resurrection.

No — the winding layers of putties, swaddling bone

and gristle, and the mummified shanks of soldiers

who trudged and muddied in battle only a war ago.

Putties tease us back, yet are not quite like

the monocle or pince-nez, crooked in the socket

of an eye or pinched on the bridge of a nose

(von Stroheim’s scrutiny or Chekhov’s tolerant regard),

curious occularities returned to life in other forms.

Rather, looking at putties, you think, “That’s about

where the past starts,” and the whim of conception

has placed you on this side, making them what used-to-be.

Putties are your limits, like the face of the grandfather

who died before you were born but whom you can name

and place in the velvet album. They are not the face

to the left of his, who is only “Who?” who takes you

further back; and even if you find someone who can

name and relate it, that face is beyond the reach

that almost touches, beyond the ridged cloth

of the putties, wrapped from ankle to the knee.