Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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My mother wore lipstick without fail.
At five or six, before the long trudge
to the schoolhouse, its fluorescent hours
and ratty workbooks, smelling of sick,
she’d rub roses on her lips, and cream
her appled cheeks, dust her forehead
with pale powder, and slide a slim pearl
through each ear, like a chime. Noon
or night, she’d smell of Joy or Diorissimo,
names that sounded like Italy, like wine
dripped over stars, or snug villas,
high on the hillside, for so I imagined
Italy to be, from hours spent looking
at books. Once a year, at a restaurant,
we’d dress up like fine women in stories—
Jane and Elizabeth, the March sisters—
and order a special to share, then slip
to the ladies’ room to freshen our lips
with berry or plum. On Sundays,
we’d trim our hair over the sink,
black and brown, like one woman’s,
and she’d say how she’d darkened with age
so I still could grow up like her.
I’d linger by the cabinet for hours,
peering at names that told of other worlds—
Ballet Shoes or Georgia Peach, Rose Rosé—
things I never thought to have so close
at hand, to gleam in my fingers, like a story.
And in the hospital, that first time,
I knew to bring tubes of buttery gloss,
and hand creams whipped with shea,
pouches of lavender to sweeten
the drawers. And I knew she was
the most beautiful thing imaginable:
my mother, creased after long
pillowed days, wan in the hospital noon,
reaching for her traveling bag,
her bedside glasses, her flat, orange pills.  

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