Make Believe by Oliver Bendorf

Make believe generally has no rules except to stay in character.

The first time I took a razor to my face

I forgot what I was made of. Having
made believe all I could, I made believe

a little further, pulling the open blade

around the corner of my lips, watching
a few desolate strands fall to the sink

like soldiers in a porcelain trench,

or as with invisible ink drew myself
a mustache I could get behind.

Or I am made up of fanciful scraps

and small fingers, one for every time
I’ve ever been called Sir.

Tomorrow I’ll get a prescription

is what I’ve resolved every day since
the last June solstice drained the light

from the sky and passerines remembered

they had wings. In the woods I walk
figure eights around ground shrubs

that cling to the cold grass below

and remind myself: no guarantees.
It’s true, some days I want the beard

in writing, want to know that when

I needle myself every fourteen
days, all the hundred jagged things

that give me away will start to shift

and this traveling itch will disappear
for good. But it happens as a gradient

so I wait like small hands cupped. I wait

in character, hips pointing the way,
shoulders broad like a wingspan.

I wait at the outskirts of regulation

with my Stetson and Wranglers for
the oak trees and the sheep herd

and the waiter and the goat vet

and the teapot and the snowstorm
and my father and my father’s father

and the children I pass in the field

to see me as this new soft man
and for me to begin to believe it.


Oliver Bendorf is the author of The Spectral Wilderness, selected by Mark Doty for the 2013 Wick Poetry Prize and forthcoming from Kent State University Press. Other poems of his are forthcoming in Barn Owl Review, Blackbird, and jubilat. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.