POISON SUMAC

Judith Skillman

In the Appalachian forest with my sister one summer
we woke to red welts on our arms & legs in summer.
 
A week or ten days—the rash weeping, our arms
& trunks victims of a brush against a bush, one summer.
 
The smell of calamine lotion, poultices of baking powder,
a hell all humidity, the sun treed by sky that summer.
 
How fathom the depths of skin, clothing as carrier—
how end the itch scratching will worsen. Summer.
 
An oil—urushiol—in leaves, stems, roots, & berries
makes blisters that crust and ooze, renders summers
 
spent as children crashing through ravines full of fortresses
insufferable as that of the aging struggling to stand summer.
 
Any spot too full of touch will become another in summers
full of angst & fear—& I, I dare not enjoy myself in summer.

 

JUDITH SKILLMAN's recent book is House of Burnt Offerings, Pleasure Boat Studio. Her work has appeared in J Journal, The Southern Review, Tampa Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. Her awards include a Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. Currently she works on manuscript review: www.judithskillman.com