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Featured Poetry Winter 2021

Dermatillomania

by Via Lamberti

I.
When we moved in, my parents
thought the tree in our backyard was dead
or dying; its peeling bark evoked
an ear of corn not quite shucked,
a natural edge run ragged.

We would soon learn
that the shagbark hickory is not born
with shag in its bark; but grows
into it. It is the story of age
as paring knife, bark
as shed skin.

II.
I let my first whitehead ripen
until my mother snipped pus fruit
off the vine with flesh
between pinched fingers,
a pop.

This is how rite became passage
of time, and how I could not help
but pick and poke and prod and pop
each bump, raze what was raised
into submission,
into scar.

Keep squeezing after all the pus is out,
just to be sure, or just
so that a steady drip of blood
may follow. Two birds, smooth
your face and yourself,
one faucet running red.

III.
There is a beetle in my sink.
It scuttles out of the drain so rapidly
I can imagine the ratatattat of legs
on porcelain. The urgency
of an ugly thing.

We know each other, beetle
and I, beetle who could crawl
into an oversized pore and shimmy
under my skin, hatch eggs in my cheek
and excrete itself in pus.
An ugliness that can spiral
back down the drain.

IV.
When we moved in, my parents
thought the tree in our backyard was dead
or dying, and so peeling bark was tempting
for idle hands to pry off. To leave a scar
behind: a reddish-gray gash,
a nakedness.

When Caliban looked in the glass
did he too see Ham? Are there pimples on the cheeks
of forests? The beetle living under my skin
laughs at me. No, it says. And still
they grow. 

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