ISSUE 11
May 2000

Denise Duhamel

 

Denise Duhamel Denise Duhamel is the author of ten books and chapbooks of poetry, the most recent of which are The Star-Spangled Banner (winner of the Crab Orchard Award in Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press, 1999), Kinky (Orchises Press, 1997), and Exquisite Politics (a collaboration with Maureen Seaton, Tia Chucha, 1997).

Crater Face    Click to hear in real audio


is what we called her. The story was
that her father had thrown Drano at her
which was probably true, given the way she slouched
through fifth grade, afraid of the world, recess
especially. She had acne scars
before she had acne—poxs and dips
and bright red patches.
                                   I don't remember
any report in the papers. I don't remember
my father telling me her father had gone to jail.
I never looked close to see the particulars
of Crater Face's scars. She was a blur, a cartoon
melting. Then, when she healed—her face,
a million pebbles set in cement.
                                               Even Comet Boy,
who got his name by being so abrasive,
who made fun of everyone, didn't make fun
of her. She walked over the bridge
with the one other white girl who lived
in her neighborhood. Smoke curled
like Slinkies from the factory stacks
above them.
                  I liked to imagine that Crater Face
went straight home, like I did, to watch Shirley Temple
on channel 56. I liked to imagine that she slipped
into the screen, bumping Shirley with her hip
so that child actress slid out of frame, into the tubes
and wires that made the TV sputter when I turned it on.
Sometimes when I watched, I'd see Crater Face
tap-dancing with tall black men whose eyes
looked shiny, like the whites of hard-boiled eggs.
I'd try to imagine that her block was full
of friendly folk, with a lighthouse or goats
running in the street.
                               It was my way of praying,
my way of un-imagining the Drano pellets
that must have smacked against her
like a round of mini-bullets,
her whole face as vulnerable as a tongue
wrapped in sizzling pizza cheese.
How she'd come home with homework,
the weight of her books bending her into a wilting plant.
How her father called her slut, bitch, big baby, slob.
The hospital where she was forced to say it was an accident.
Her face palpable as something glowing in a Petri dish.
The bandages over her eyes.
                                            In black and white,
with all that make-up, Crater Face almost looked pretty
sure her MGM father was coming back soon from the war,
seeing whole zoos in her thin orphanage soup.
She looked happiest when she was filmed
from the back, sprinting into the future,
fading into tiny gray dots on UHF.

 

 

Snow White's Acne    Click to hear in real audio


At first she was sure it was just a bit of dried strawberry juice,
or a fleck of her mother's red nail polish that had flaked off
when she'd patted her daughter to sleep the night before.
But as she scrubbed, Snow felt a bump, something festering
under the surface, like a tapeworm curled up and living
in her left cheek.
                          Doc the Dwarf was no dermatologist
and besides Snow doesn't get to meet him in this version
because the mint leaves the tall doctor puts over her face
only make matters worse. Snow and the Queen hope
against hope for chicken pox, measles, something
that would be gone quickly and not plague Snow's whole
adolescence.
                    If only freckles were red, she cried, if only
concealer really worked. Soon came the pus, the yellow dots,
multiplying like pins in a pin cushion. Soon came
the greasy hair. The Queen gave her daughter a razor
for her legs and a stick of underarm deodorant.
                                                                       Snow
doodled through her teenage years—"Snow + ?" in Magic
Markered hearts all over her notebooks. She was an average
student, a daydreamer who might have been a scholar
if she'd only applied herself. She liked sappy music
and romance novels. She liked pies and cake
instead of fruit.
                       The Queen remained the fairest in the land.
It was hard on Snow, having such a glamorous mom.
She rebelled by wearing torn shawls and baggy gowns.
Her mother would sometimes say, "Snow darling,
why don't you pull back your hair? Show those pretty eyes?"
or "Come on, I'll take you shopping."
                                                        Snow preferred
staying in her safe room, looking out of her window
at the deer leaping across the lawn. Or she'd practice
her dance moves with invisible princes. And the Queen,
busy being Queen, didn't like to push it. 

 

 

Denise Duhamel: Poetry
Copyright 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 11The Cortland Review