The Mark

A few choice words about discovering bird guano on your shirt while standing in front of the ‘Sale!’ shoes that drew you into that damn shop in the first place, being the only thing there that might fit from among the feverish men’s merchandise stretched taut over mannequin bellies and bulges. Discovering it there on your shirt, sudden and close, below your right cheek, close to your neck, in a blind spot. There! Guano, brown and chunky. Then imagining for a moment it was the shopkeeper’s spittle, left when he noted your failed sneakers, fingers reaching to check your backpack.  Nothing here for you!” his face read - in style or in size, but perhaps he was just stunned by the bird crap, seemingly dropped only seconds ago. Or maybe it was, more horribly, the jettisoned last squirt of lunch’s tamale. Lingering there for hours, during that long crowded bus ride, vivid against the white shirt. And there, upon discovery, the mess wiped from hand to jeans to eye again, in sudden shame and revulsion. The stain left behind even more loathsome. A warning. A curse. Bad luck. Bad manners. The second bus trip spent wondering which.  

Here’s the advice. Use a spot remover. Wash cold. If it doesn’t come out, you know.            


The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling

Pity the ogre
with his foul breath,
his loathsome face.
Spinning in shame and ridicule,
turning pride into hate.
He hears the laughter
in the playground.
He hears the taunting
in the gym.

Pity the hag
with the crooked nose
and the warty chin.
Never getting a date for the prom,
shutting her quiet dreams in.
She hears the whispers
behind the hands,
the snickers beneath
the breath.

Pity the ugly
but not too hard -
we all will walk that path in time.
If while brat, adult,
or toothless crone,
we’ll all lose beauty
and stand alone.

Relish the circles
that let you in.
The group that mirrors
your own shortcomings.
There you’ll shine
like matching plates.
The stacking fit
of like with like.

For in the end
we’ll lie down to
an open gash
of wormy earth.
Our face dissolved,
all equalized
to common bones
and common dust.

A water fowl chick alone
was adopted by a mother duck,
who overlooked his funny shape
and gave him sanctuary.

He was taunted by
the other ducklings
as only siblings can
to the outsider,
the new kid,
the odd one out.

They called him ugly big head,
flat foot, turd face, snot beak.
And so a monster
looked back at him
when he peered into
the waters deep.

He cried and cawed
and begged and bargained
and struggled to fit in.
But nastier the others grew
to the new ugly duckling.

A year passed by in aching pain.
A childhood gone,
like countless others before and since.
Wishing he had never left the egg.
Envying his brother’s molts.

And then one day
a child called “Look!”
“Look at the beautiful swan!”
And the bird looked down
to an odd reflection
of what couldn’t be himself!

No big-headed duck,
no mis-colored misfit,
no fat waterfowl,
but an elegant swan,
all curving neck and wings,

With the haughty trumpet
of those who know, at last,
their own sweet vindication,
he left the pond for good.

Never looking back
to the ducklings’ cruelty,
to the spite and misery,
to the mother duck’s
lukewarm embrace.
His background now embarrassing,
only his beauty would count.

He joined the bird world royalty.
Swimming in country club lagoons.
Bathing behind a mask of pride,
so terrified someone would find
the ugly duckling deep inside.

So he preened his white feathers
and worried about
the thickness of his down.
He stretched his slender neck
thinking it was never
quite long enough.

And he entertained the other swans
with tales of his modest childhood
and all his self-wrought woe.
They laughed politely
at his charming farce
and that silly, awful
he’d let slip
now and again.

And in the fall he was selected
as the most beautiful specimen
at a rich man’s estate.
So subsequently changed
once more,
into a paté

- From Eating the Child Within by Jason Messinger
Eating The Child Within for KINDLE  
Eating The Child Within - PRINT Edition




Ghosts are detected only
by the misdirection
of their deeds;
the vase falling
in an empty room,
the creak in the attic floor,
the silence where speech
used to be.

There is a ghost that lives
on the tip of my tongue,
drawing words from my throat
like a fisherman.
Some explode, too delicate
for the change in pressure.
Others get crushed
into dust and deceit.

Who decided loneliness
is such a coveted point of view?
How can I say I’m sorry
when you can’t even see
that I’m gone?

from "Storytelling" by Jason Messinger