CNF: How Many Eyes

by Jenny Sadre-Orafai


I had to stare at a house that looked more like a barn. It was so far away and so small. I was sure if I looked very hard I could see what the people inside must be doing.

It was the second of three visual field tests. I was given a hand buzzer for the last one and had to focus on a dot while clicking the buzzer any time I saw squiggled lines on the screen. One eye at a time. I pretended I was on a game show and that I only had the right answers.


The last time I went to an optometrist I was eighteen. I only went because I wanted color contacts—gray and hazel. I was fitted for them and had perfect vision. I know zero people who would find having perfect vision a sad fact.


Country roads have farms on them sometimes. It’s harder to pay attention to the road with open spaces and animals roaming. On the way to a beach for my birthday, I had passed a lake in Alabama that was covered in lily pads. My friend was in the car with me and was amazed that I had even seen it since I was driving the speed limit and the lake, Round Lake, wasn’t too visible from the road. I turned the car around, got out near the country highway, and took pictures of all the lily pads. I wanted to know what was underneath. As we drove off, we talked about all the animals and danger that surely must have been there, that we just couldn’t see.


My parents and my sister have had glasses or contacts for as long as I’ve been alive. I was the only one in the family who didn’t. My sister had a pair of frames when she was younger the color of bubble gum. I might have put them on my face once or twice.


When I ran in Forsyth Park once, people were walking obedient dogs that sniffed at foggy air. I was watching the water spray something fantastic in the fountains while my heavy ponytail swung around behind me. The fog burned off, and I passed the Fragrant Garden for the Blind. I couldn’t smell anything. I stopped to catch my breath. I looked down and someone wrote on the sidewalk in chalk Let them see.


The first semester I taught a college course I was twenty-four. I looked more like the students than I didn’t look like them. Being in front of a classroom frightened me then. Perhaps my largest fear was not of looking like them but not looking intelligent, whatever that can mean. The weekend before my first class I went into a fashion jewelry store and bought two pairs of cheap plastic glasses. Black and tortoise. I could see without them and I could see through them. They had nothing lenses, just clear plastic. Decorations on my face.


My father tells me when I am small and then when I am big you have two ears and one mouth. This is always his way of telling me to listen more than I talk. He never talks about how many eyes I have. I have more eyes than I do mouth. What am I looking for? Why am I looking? To hear what I can’t hear with my ears? A family eating oatmeal, folding socks into each other, reading in natural light, stirring simple soups in a small house that looks more like a barn than a house.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather (Press 53) and four chapbooks. Recent poetry has appeared in Linebreak, Redivider, Eleven Eleven, Thrush Poetry Journal, PANK, Rhino, Sixth Finch, ILK, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and Poemeleon. Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, The Toast, and Delirious Hem. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “How Many Eyes”?

After writing “How Many Eyes” and thirteen years after buying my first pair of fake glasses, I bought another much fancier pair. I’ve worn them only a handful of times because I always think everyone must know that they aren’t real. I’ll never stop loving them on other people’s faces though (especially on my sister’s face, still).


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