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
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