The Birthmark by Bruce Guernsey

The Birthmark

No matter what he did—
the Silver Cross for valor,
the powder he’d cover
his right cheek with
like gauze on a wound,
his Florida tan—no matter,
his was a mask he couldn’t take off,
rising like flame from the collar
of his tropical shirt
everyone noticed first,

my Uncle Charles
with the map on his face
as he called it,
to not get lost, so he said,
my baby sister giggling,
bouncing on his knee
each Christmas
when he’d come to visit,
his bags full of presents
as he reached to hug me
and I ran away,
afraid to touch it,
the burn from birth
that made Charles different,

though when I did once,
sneaking up
where he slept on our couch,
it felt the same
to my tender hand
as my father’s face
after he shaved, my uncle
like my sister in her crib
sound asleep as I traced
the scarlet coast for his house,
my fingers trembling, barely touching,
not wanting to hurt him anymore.

by Bruce Guernsey, from FROM RAIN: Poems, 1970-2010.

Editor’s Note: Short, narrative poems must function as miniature stories, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The narrator’s adventure arcs from curiosity, through fear, to realization.

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