Steven Clayman: The Nostril Flare And The Human Condition

As quick as a wink or a brow flash
   So small we are barely aware
It does not quite count as a gesture
   It is just a wee nostril flare.

The circular muscle that drives this,
   Nasalis it's properly called,
Resembles in function the sphincter
   By which we are rather appalled.

Now, as an evolved adaptation
   This muscle is perfectly cunning,
Permitting intensified breathing
   Should predators set us off running.

What started as pre-nasal plumbing
   Primarily for aspiration,
Has become a resource for expression
   And also for interpretation.

How often in novels we've read
   That nostrils were flaring with lust.
We likewise have heard it been said
   They were flaring with rage or disgust.

Despite such pronounced polysemy,
   How seldom are we truly vexed.
Each flare seems so very transparent
   When viewed from within its context.

Yet caution to you, one and all,
   If seeing some fellow as seething,
It may simply be the poor chap
   Has run out of breath and is breathing.

As Sigmund himself has demurred
   Cigars may be just what they seem,
Though sometimes they're certainly not.
   A droplet of doubt? No, a stream.

We all know of people appearing
   Both regal and noble of bearing,
And others who seem to embody
   The essence of valour and daring.

But this may be mere affectation
   Achieved through controlled nostril flaring
Performed at precisely those moments
   So pregnant with silence and staring.

Such is life's parade of meanings
Formed from sundry acts and gleanings.

Start with something solid-seeming,
End with posturing and dreaming.

Here truth and lie would be distinguished,
But certainty must be relinquished.