The Homely Girls ~ Jacob M. Appel


Three days into the school year—her thirtieth!—
And already she divines the full-grown men and women
Marked to inherit these slight torsos, these paste-slathered
Six-year-old hands.  Like Polynesian navigators sighting
Distant vessels in the lap of a single wave, or the crystal-eyed
Field marshal who reads an army’s fate, and an empire’s,
In far-off plumes of cannon-smoke, she listens as their
Tiny piping voices pledge allegiance to one nation indivisible,
Watches them tell and show tadpoles and shards of mica,
Studies their delicate, implausible features, and she knows
Who among her phalanx of rubber band-snappers and nail-biters
Will bring the planets to heel—or will at least try—
And which of her fragile-souled, hope-chocked charges
The universe will grind beneath its wheels like road salt.

In one boy’s handshake, she can feel herself purchasing
Aluminum siding, or a late-model Cadillac, or six billion
Pounds sterling of bearer bonds—and she will share these
Impressions on open school night.  Other revelations beg
More discretion:  Her two Michaels, B. and W., a dark,
mischief-grinned lothario, needing only the dashboard
To start counting his notches, and a rusty-mopped tub
With the panache of an embryonic podiatrist.  But boys,
Even stunted sops, remain boys.  Girls weigh upon her:
Catty, cliquish creatures whose feral friendships will
Sort themselves out along inexorable lines—pretty
And pretty enough and plain.  Soon the girls who are
Nearly pretty will drop their necklines, their panties,
Their expectations.   The homely girls will steel their
Scorned faces, clench their uninviting lips, and manage
Contingencies.  For instance, teaching kindergarten.
Yet she promises them they can yet become princesses,
Her task to protract this fleeting carefree interval between
Who these girls never were and who they never will be.