Spencer Smith: Itch

              Renaissance Rag, by Mary Hatch, 1982, oil on canvas, 40” x 36”



Over the next few days
he would often think

of the purple hands of starfish
grasping black rock,

scratching the back of the earth
where itches could most easily be reached,

but missing those places
where need was substantially greater.

He supposed in the end it didn’t matter,
pausing occasionally in attempts to scrape

that one spot on his own spine.
Scratching never exterminates the cause,

and itches always return
on stealthy insect legs.

Spencer Smith

Review by Mark Kerstetter
The poem “Itch” itself itches, and that may be its greatest strength. As an itch, I can’t claim to grasp it in analysis even though it seems to beg for it. The purple hands of a starfish on a black rock provides a very strong visual for what is essentially a phenomenon of blindness, its color evoking the painful bruise of that experience. The image is therefore elusive—strong, unmistakable, present, and yet, “missing those places” most in need—of what?—a scratch, certainly, but perhaps more. The “he” observing all this tries to reach “that one spot on his own spine” but seems to manage at most a “scrape” which sounds more like inflicting a wound. The last three lines confirm this, the “stealthy insect legs” replacing the former bright visual image with an unpleasant mobile and tactile one: the itch that “always return[s].”

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