Ghost of the Face Painter in the Park

I am here, I’ve always been here,
sitting on the bench with paints and brushes,
in a small park blistering the pristine shore.
To be as learned as me,
you must ignore the slides, and the swings,
their metallic coating patched with rust
from frequent summer showers,
and listen to the perfect language of seagulls
that know they’ll not be caught stealing scraps of littered bread crusts…
You’ll have to study how they scatter as if scared,
or out of some sense of, some means of, migration,
and smell the crack smoke as it’s breathed out by the prostitute,
who huddles underneath a cedar,
who bites her fingernails, frantically, before a shift,
as she mumbles her apologies to a dead son.
Study the muscles in the calves of children playing football,
            scared by no one,
the offense congregating to devise a strategy.
The quarterback clenches his teeth—
He’s going for a first-down…
Children used to wait in line here, impatient,
            for the mask I’d paint.
The prostitute takes a hit off the steel pipe,
and watches them, and watches seagull wings, like sails,
casting shadows over the water, and the sand, and the swing set.
Today, as always, I predicted the hour of long shadows,
and was wrong. Their filthy shade means time for the children to leave.
They won’t—They never do…And though they are the same children
that threw stones at the mother skunk swilling a tipped trash can
a week ago, and though they are so frightened
by the sweat of malice sheening their hands,
I almost feel sympathy for them, for this place.
Secretly, of course, I wish for them to learn a lesson,
a lesson so severe—That is to say,
a lesson only the ordinary world could teach.
As the end of summer hastens leaves from trees,
as this humid evening rots the eyes of the mother skunk,
I watch one boy cover a cough with his hand,
and see the seagulls become sheets of newsprint
            lifting in the wind.
The prostitute picking scabs,
while manic molecules crank the engine of her heart,
in search of something beyond the dog-eared pages of her life,
is too far gone to care.
She sprawls out on the grass,
and allows the final beams of sunset to nail her down,
and lets the nerve endings
learn what the sun can do.
It’s because the honesty of sunlight
shows her every shame, and deems her body meaningless.

To become this learned, this powerless,
you’ll have to sit with me for hours, on this bench,
and hear the perfect language of seagulls,
over and over,
or watch this prostitute pray her mind will numb enough,
and then follow her into the parking lot
as she posts up underneath a streetlamp—
And you can’t help but stare at shadows
spreading through the park,
and at the barren slide, refusing to succumb to rust,
and the swings, lightly stirring in the breeze.

Domenic Scopa is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry and translations have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, Reed Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Belleville Park Pages, and many others. He is currently an adjunct professor for the Changing Lives Through Literature program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and at New Hampshire Technical Institute. His first book, Walk-in Closet (Yellow Chair Press), is forthcoming in 2017. He currently reads manuscripts for Hunger Mountain and Ink Brush Publications.

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