Warts and Other Poems
Marlene Joyce Pearson
Warts And Family Photographs

I remember the toad the preacher cast out
of that sixteen-year old girl. There was a
picture of it in a jar and for six dollars
you could send for a record of its cries
and an eight by ten glossy. Mother said
no, but I still wanted it. I thought
it had sad eyes. She said it was evil.
I snuck the picture, put it under

my mattress. Mother tore up the
magazine, the picture of the toad.
I cried all night, one hand wiped tears
while the other hand inside pajamas
touched between the soft lips until
I jumped in my bed. In the morning

I thought my tears would turn into warts
all over my eyes, cheeks, wherever
they ran down, even my throat.

Years later my son really did get warts
all over his fingers. He was only six.
I took him to the doctor who said the warts
must go and took out his scalpel.
When the nurse stuck the two inch needle
under his thumbnail, I puffed up
my ears to block out

the screams. His nail turned black
by four that afternoon. It took a whole year
to grow out. There were warts growing in clumps
on his neck before it was over, on his elbows,
beneath his nose, ears, and finally too near
his testicles. I really believed he would die of warts.

Yesterday in the garden when I split apart
the hollyhock, the toad jumped into my shears.
I almost clipped off its leg. I dropped
the blue-belled flowers, screamed, ran indoors,
turned up the radio and rocked myself until
I started to hum. But when the violins
sounded like screeches, like the toad

inside the chest of the sixteen-year old girl
I saw it again. Saw it leap from her throat,
scratch its eyes on her incisors, rub its stomach
rough against her tongue, then land hard against
the preacher's shiny black shoe. That toad
must have felt like a new babe, startled by air
and light, the greedy hands of the preacher
grabbing its belly, stuffing it inside a pickle jar.
Its last low groans sounding like my son

after surgery. The preacher screwed the lid
down tight, then sent for the photograpers.

It has been thirty years and I still dream
of a jar with lid perpetually turning,
the sad eye of the toad, its screeches
stifled like someone screaming through a pillow,
its hand pressed between glass and skin
pulling the lip into a grotesque smile.

Sometimes I cannot stop thinking
until my hand slides down again,
a tadpole, into the dampness
and curls up between soft lips.

In A Former Life

As a salamander I think about sex
rarely. Only when I tie my shoes, bent over
double. My husband did that

to me in a former life when I was a woman ---
when I wore those four-inch heels
that warp your feet. The ones you
wear with nylons that double your toes
under. I was bent over jerking
panty hose up my calves when he grabbed
my middle, held my belly, stuck his penis
like a crowbar into me. Skin along my back turns
violet-green even now when I think

how I bit down on my ring finger, metal cold
and sharp, to stifle the scream.
They always told me to be still
and so I did. In fact I fell asleep.

Doctors said I was depressed.
Gave me pills. I took a lot.
When I died I felt

better. Now as a salamander, I hug ground
and sleep on a gray rock. I lick my tail with my own rough
tongue and wear shoes only when I visit mother
in her Victorian house with bars
on the windows and a picture of Ike and Mamie
on her piano.

Mostly I wear nothing. I don't need moisture
cream or cleansing cream or wrinkle cream in this life
either. My skin crackles. Arms, legs dance
like flames in the sun.

--- From
A Fine Day for
A Middle-Class Marriage

© 1996 Red Hen Press

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