C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Scars Where Nothing Happened

By: Joseph Kerschbaum



Camouflaged in ivy & underbrush, headlights approached

& dissolved as my friends dared each other to see

who had the guts to throw first.


During a skin cancer screening, the dermatologist asks

about the scars on my face. Unforgiving fluorescent lights

like a forced confession for blemishes.


Morning after stalking traffic, I woke to my skin burning from inside.

Splotchy rash was a wildfire unleashed after a drought. Like drinking

salty ocean water when lost at sea, itching only made everything burn more.


On a Saturday afternoon, I tame unruly backyard brush

before I see poison ivy weaving through the spindly leaves.

Familiar pain throbs, feel my heartbeat in my hands.


At school, someone said I looked like a burn victim. Whispers

of a disfiguring accident. I heard I tried to kill myself. No one

said these things to my face because no one wanted to look at me.


News story today about stupid kids pulling a stupid prank

& some kid is killed doing something stupid they would all

would take back if they could. This could have been us but worse.


One water balloon was thrown but burst on a branch

a few feet from the speeding car on the road. Close enough

to disaster. We jumped out of the ivy & scattered in the dark.


Every morning on that curve, I will drive through

the specter of a tragedy that doesn’t exist like a fog

that never lifts & will always dim the sunlight there.





Joseph Kerschbaum’s most recent publications include Mirror Box (Main St Rag Press, 2020) and Distant Shore of a Split Second (Louisiana Literature Press, 2018). Joseph has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Indiana Arts Commission. His work has appeared in journals such as Poetry Distillery, Hamilton Stone Review, Panoply, Flying Island, Ponder Review, Main St. Rag, and The Delinquent. Joseph lives in Bloomington, Indiana with his family.


"For the past few months, I’ve been writing poems with non-sequential narratives. I thought it would be interesting to brainstorm on a form that focuses on verb tense. In this poem, the tense shifts from past to present to tell a story. Hopefully, this builds tension and tells the story in an interesting way. The final stanza shifts to future tense to get a different perspective at the end.


Right now, I’m calling this form, ‘Tense Exchange.’ From a literal sense, the tenses shift back-and-forth from past and present eventually to the future. Hopefully, through this we also have tension in the story which also adds to the idea of a tense exchange between the past and present.


The narratives interwoven between the stanzas are all based on true events. I’ve written about these experiences before elsewhere, but they never hit the mark. As the form started to come together, the narrative threads found their way to each other and something new started to form."