by Mary Kennan Herbert


Nein, my little bumpy valentine,
nothing will come between my flesh and thine,
except for those flaws which a surgeon

can readily and efficiently excise.
Nice, eh?  Basal cell carcinomas,
hematomas, or those dreaded age spots

can be whisked away like annoying tots.
Fine indeed are the tools of the trade,
lasers and acids and amusing capsules

to defeat acne and rosacea and funny feet,
my sweet.  All you need is to trust the blade,
and stay out the sun, have sex in the shade.

The skin is just a covering for our souls,
anyway, so there's no need to worry.
Just slice off the superfluous, and hurry.


Most of these buggers (basal cell
carcinomas to you, pal) show up
within a fairly defined time frame,
all arriving at the eat-you-alive party
about the same time, so there is no
need to assume you will be getting
these guests for the rest of your
life.  A non-growth industry after
five years, you say?  Well, like
everything else in the Big C biz
there are no guarantees, he sez
with a smile.  Still, he's right, after
the first war, there have been no
others, yet every night I still gaze
into that laughing mirror and seek
signs of what I don't want to find.
O beauty mark, o bump, o blotch,
ye freckle and ye clogged pore
tell me you are nothing, nothing,
nothing, just a superfluous, dainty
blemish we can hide with blush,
concealer stick, a powdering of
virtue to reflect some inner glow
and hide the greed, the vice,
as well as the sugar and spice.
All is fair game when Nature runs
amuck, that take-no-prisoners
mentality that chews on whatever
the mirror sees, desires, seizes or
rejects, on a roll of the dice.


Annoyed, the ant asked:
What country is this?
frustrated that the warm
foothill under the comforter
had no signage, nor response.
When the leg -  at last -
moved, dreaming perhaps,
the ant bit it, a stinging
signal to a slumbering brain,
miles away beyond the
country of arms, belly,
and breasts akimbo, damp
with July's night sweats.
What's an ant doing
in my bed?  Like thunder,
a sudden storm, words
pealed into the heavy dark,
a hand swept the ant
from Thigh Trail, away
from the guarded forest,
the brook, beautiful views.
The segmented warrior
was dispatched with no
mercy.  To her, its bite
was all too similar to those
liquid-nitrogen needles
gainfully employed to score
against precancerous spots
on nose and cheek,
a preventive strike with
good intentions, somehow
like zealous punctures of
100,000 well-armed ants.


For weeks the midlife bride
wore a patch on her brazen cheek
while the cartoon crater healed,
a microsurgery triumph with pride
featured in other fleshly poems
(no, you cannot peek).

In the land of the free,
the patch gave her a pirate facade,
she imagined as she hummed a tune,
a ditty, an image of pugilistic victory:
tough as a bulldog in a courtroom,
brandishing bandages with a history.

Each day she swabbed out
the indelicate wound, Avast,
me hearties! she could hear Black Pete
expound, not wanting to look, yet
entranced by her destruction, her Berlin,
a brand-new no man's land.

Temporarily barred from kisses
or sunlight, skin floated belly up like
dead porpoises, gray flags of toxins
we have yet to identify, in mixed
metaphors that hoarsely whisper:
the Earth is closed for repairs.


Not satisfied with my rent, torn facade,
I decided to turn it all inside-out
in order to hide (or lurk!) in the shade,
rather than letting it all hang out.

Young turks with phones glued
to smooth, upscale ears might not
see the need to camouflage greed,
but I'm older.  I try to hide each blot.

My flesh, scarred with kisses and sins
of all kinds, I removed and tailored anew,
lined it with newborn squirrel skins
to hide dysfunction, infancy.  A bit labored,

but who really cares, I ask, defensively.
Doesn't the new me look subtle?  Now
I blend in with the crowd milling around--
surrounded by beaver, buck, and sow.


O tender girl half Polish,
Half Scots-Irish,
Paleface, unlucky karma,
not as amusing as that Bob Hope movie
you thought of, just now,
remembering my face,
if you do, in the rush
of tour bus images.

Face off, slap shot, slam
dunk, it might be, it could be,
it ISSSS a home run!  But
not even Harry Carey's
cheer could erase her sorrow,
her mirror staring at her:
ha, ha, pizza face.  Damn
that mug, those stigmata.
A radio announces her errors.

She is sure of it.
One cannot be branded
with such marks of guilt
unless one is guilty.
Acne mocks her new identity.
Brand new breasts inside
that blouse, plus a waist,
a cute butt for baseball
teams to admire.  A waste.


Pretty as a picture, that's what I want to be.
A Vermeer, a Sargent, or even a pink Fragonard,
but not this callow, Kahlo face that's in the cards.

In the rear-view mirror, my father smiles at me.
Driving me to school in our lime green Buick
he catches a preview of me, a future look.

You know, you'll be an attractive young lady,
he says reassuringly.  After your skin clears up,
you will be darn pretty.  Hemlock in my cup.

Ah, Dad, you are trying to be kind, and witty.
I know you mean well, but I am fifteen, I want
beauty, not truth, not even on the slant.
Ode to beauty indeed.  Adolescent greed, see,
makes the world go round.  Dad, give me a face
that will knock men dead, from joy, in every place

wherever I go, so that artists will want me,
so that poets will love me.  Paintings and poems
should sing of my skin and my beautiful bones.


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