Half of a Face
I wrote this poem last year for a creative writing competition at my university where it eventually won me $100 and the Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller Poetry Prize (2013). In the Spring of 2014, it got published in From the Fallout Shelter, a campus literary magazine. I’ve added the judge’s critique below for I think it adds to the poem in a way I can’t quite explain; however, it must be said that it makes me sound a lot more glorious than I actually am (especially when it comes to writing, definitely when it’s poetry). I didn’t consciously plan for any of the things that the judge pointed out – they just happened.
Half of a Face
In small bumps and craters
that fingertips dive into,
a rash, porous touch of expression
layered in dismembered membrane,
miniature hills spread uneven, casting
a shadow on dead—occasionally red—cells
stretching nowhere on the surface.
My thoughts permeate the air,
Who would dare make such ghastly art?
A step or two back and the hills
now recede in their reach,
shades of red stretch further beyond,
and more small craters camouflage
into other small craters, till all is one
revolting half of a face, a victim
to an acid attack, an art no more to me
but an ugly truth of our worlds.
The Why burdens our immediate atmosphere,
Chose to speak out against oppression.
The voice straining, demanding
to reveal an unbroken strength, a resolve
of thundering magnitude placed carefully
in the space between us, suspended
in the thought of half a face—
nature’s art—rendered lifeless.
Monsters, I think.
Monsters, she says.
“Half of a Face,” a poem about the victim of an acid attack, manages to turn a horrific act into an occasion for contemplation about violence against women and social (in)justice. The poet does not shrink or turn away from seeing and coolly depicting the woman’s face with its “bumps and craters/ that fingertips dive into,” but uses the poem as a vehicle to ask the question “Who would dare make such ghastly art?” The poet depicts the scarred face of the woman with accuracy and sensitivity, and does so by using landscape as a way to describe what resists plainer description. With an artful touch, the first stanza does not reveal its subject, but withholds this information until halfway through the poem, which encourages rereading and repeated consideration, or “re-thinking.” This haunting poem, itself an act of “speak[ing] out against oppression,” closes by – rightly – allowing the victim to have the last, undeniable word: “Monsters.”