When Form Reflects Content: On Beauty and Truth

14 May

In his elegy “Lenox Hill”, Agha Shahid Ali recounts to his mother on being asked by the universe, “So, how’s the writing?” To this question, he responds, “My mother/ is my poem”. Upon reading this piece, I had never more intensely resonated with a line. Poetry, to me, is the barest, most candid manifestation of emotion. It is artistic expression so honest that only one sequence of words, thoughtfully and meticulously arranged, can express it. This representation of complete truthfulness, in all areas of life, is the way in which my mother exemplifies poetry.

As a cosmetologist, my mother is an artist herself. She carries out her philosophy through her craft, utilizing makeup to magnify the beauty in someone, a beauty that is already present. Her makeup enhances; it does not create. In this way, she is an amplifier of truth, allowing her clients to perceive beauty in themselves that, to them, might not be as immediately recognizable as it is to the rest of the world.

I remember, during moments of self consciousness so common in my teenhood, my mother would sit me down, and make me up. The knot behind my ribs would dispel as I watched her work: her glasses balancing on the tip of her nose, enlarging her intense gaze; her eyes shifting across my face, like a sculptor scanning for bumps in wet clay; her knuckles periodically tucking under my chin to lift my face towards the sunlight. At times, she would meet my gaze and her intenseness would melt momentarily, offering me a gentle smile before returning to work. And after some time would pass in peaceful silence, she working and I watching, the intenseness would soften again into an expression of satisfied resolve, and I would know she was complete. She would instruct me to stay seated, my knees bumping together in anticipation, as she rushed to find a mirror. And every time she made me up, every time she returned and tilted the mirror towards my face, I was astonished at the beauty she manifested. In my reflection, I would see the version of myself I had always illustrated in my imagination: a face with blemishless skin and blushed cheekbones, defined eyebrows arching over deepset doe-eyes, thick lashes sweeping across my eyelids like weeds on fertile ground. Most importantly, I glowed with gorgeous self-love and appreciation.

My mother would sit next to me and take my hand between hers. “I did nothing,” she would tell me. “All I did was make you see what everyone else sees.” My eyes would brim tears, not because I wished I was beautiful, but because my mother allowed me to see that I had always been.

What my mother does with makeup, I strive to do with poetry: uncover truth, beauty that might be convoluted but is omnipresent nonetheless. My mother, my poem, inspires me in all areas of my life, and every morning, I wake up grateful for the opportunity to read her again.

Morning News

9 Apr

When I make breakfast in the morning,

I tune in to a YouTube CNN live stream

and listen

to shiny podiums and hairgel


how this breaking news will

probably bring about the

end of the world,

and I slip an extra splenda

into my coffee

to account for the


coming after these messages.


3 Apr

Fact: I have five fingers on one hand

now but I can remember

when your five spider-latched onto mine


to glide over the world with more surface

area. Fact: you told me the universe is chronicled

in braille but our spider-hands


could decode it without touching.

Fact: my vision is foggy

still but your reading glasses crept


into my gaze, sliced

into my retina and slurped

away the blurriness. Your clarity


was parasitic;

your fact too faultlessly

seamless to be real.

Ghazal on a Plane

28 Mar

I find my body lost in flight.

My ligaments crumbled and tossed in flight.


Stationed under ventilated breath, I rise;

and my buckled waist gathers frost in flight.


Pressure stifles air in this cabin, high,

forcing my two lungs criss-crossed in flight.


I gasp storm clouds from pipes underneath;

they fill my lungs with exhaust in flight.


My stifled presence has nowhere to go;

I signed myself up for a holocaust in flight.


Outside, we rupture through plaster clouds;

its wreckage clings to my window, embossed in flight.


And parts of me unhitch, and lodge in cumulonimbus shrouds;  

this lostness a necessary cost in flight.


20 Mar

Last night I dreamt

we were hosting a dinner –

both of our hands caked with

uncooked food and

thinning time –

I baked bread

as the kitchen clock jabbered

like an inlaw,

and when I reached for the cinammon,

the bottle slipped from my hands

and fragmentized on the floor.


And when I looked up to you

you were unfamiliar;

like I thought I followed the recipe right

but your skin was singed –

your perfume curdled,

soured the inside of my nose.


Today when I reached across the sink

to brush my teeth,

my elbow hit the porcelain bowl

that held your makeup,

and it fell to the floor, fragmentized –

your blush like dried blood

against the ceramic tile.

Cape Cod Morning – Hopper, 1950

11 Mar

From this angle, it appears

a landscape breathes on static glass,

oils rouged with expertise

careen to match the swaying grass –

branches taunt my unscathed knees,

pregnant clouds extol my tears –


And I have sat and watched for years.

Confined inside a cultured class

to study pastelled willow trees

and watch the world slowly, slowly pass –

perhaps when no one’s left to please

I’ll wander where the painting clears


David’s Poem

25 Feb


You remember me

and my tears

rain for the thickets branching under my feet.

You remember me

and my heaviness

presses flowers into paper beneath my

shifting weight.

Remember my voice

and the grove my music wove through to reach you –


Your drums gave heart beat to the forest between us.

Percussive brushwood with more

life than either of our lives together,

you remember that forest

and the outback jazz we wrote for it.


You remember, don’t you? –

the way the forest swayed for us,

Creaky oak trees careening to your beat, steady,

wind between their leaves whistling to my voice –

Nature had never heard such a saccharine noise.


If the brush could smile, it would have resembled you.



My tears rain for the thickets that bloomed under my feet,

and pay homage to the biting breeze shivering

the spines of trees –

freezing branches,

the splinters of our chests just barely




Music does not pacify my hands;

tea does not thaw the draft in my chest –

like you left the front door open during

wintertime –

frost crawling, stark against my still thoughts.


The metallic taste of loss,


pooling against the walls of my mouth,

forming waves beside a silent tongue,

grows frigid.


Your screenplay lays


coffined in its purple folder


on my bookshelf




13 Feb

Wriggling between halcyon talons,

captured mid-flight, wealth claws at our necks.

Observe how the affluence strikes –

circling above us to

scorn the grime on our skin,

retracting its claws

to chafe away

the filth from

our fool’s


Orange Crayon

16 Jan

If I were placed inside a box of crayons

I’d fit between the yellow and the red,

a niche for wildfire in my head,

an orange scaled to brilliance of dawn –

I’d streak across the skies of Vietnam,

cast sunset on the mountains up ahead

to outline mountaintops with golden thread –

ignite their peaks before the evening gone.

I wouldn’t be sweetest tangerine;

I like my fruit with quite a little kick,

a sour, natural antihistamine

to clear the sinus, strong and doublequick –

Though some prefer a softer yellow-green,

I’d draw a steady orange for the skeptic.

adrian (ONE ACT PLAY)

27 Sep


ADRIAN is sitting alone down stage left, playing with a toy truck. MOM is pacing center stage, arguing with her husband, who is not physically present.


Okay, I understand. Being different is okay. She’s clearly different. But there’s a difference between being different and being…

Don’t put words in my mouth, Michael. You know I wasn’t going to say that.

What I was saying is there’s a difference between being different and being so different that I start getting calls from her teacher for “questionable behavior”.

… No, of course she’s not doing anything wrong, but getting a call from administration during her second week of kindergarten is a red flag to any parent.

Different is having a secret talent in math, Michael, different is learning to read early. Different isn’t that.

Gestures to ADRIAN.

Maybe we should call someone…

I don’t know, a therapist? A psychologist?

There are doctors out there that could help us, help her. I’m telling you, I did some research the other week, and read a bunch of articles that laid out her situation to the T.

Apparently it’s a condition, a mental condition, and a couple of therapy sessions could straighten her out… People have sworn by it, Michael, I think we should give it a try.

Anyway, she’s still in her developmental period, right?

Nothing is set in stone.



ADRIAN is sitting cross-legged down stage right, reading a Goosebumps novel. MOM stands directly behind ADRIAN, holding a periwinkle skirt behind her back. ADRIAN does not look up when MOM talks.


Amy, honey, I have a surprise for you…

You have to close your eyes first: you’re going to love it.

Good, good. Are you ready? Okay… now, OPEN!

Say something, honey! What do you think?… Well I think the material is gorgeous, and the color matches your eyes beautifully. And it would pair wonderfully with that white silk blouse I got you the other week!… And you know what I think? I think you should wear this to your formal coming up.

Don’t be ridiculous, of course you’re going to go. It’s your eighth grade formal! Your last big event before graduation! I remember my formal, gosh, it was ages ago. I remember, your grandmother took me to a wonderful little boutique down in Maywood. It’s closed now, but it had the most adorable dresses and jackets and shoes… And she told me, “Pick whatever outfit you want, darling, and I’ll buy it for you. Happy graduation.” I couldn’t remember ever being happier than I was that day. We spent hours flipping through rails of dresses, trying on different combinations of skirts and heels… Until I found the most gorgeous purple gown somewhere in the mess. It had a bodice that hugged my waist and a skirt that flowed beautifully down my legs to my ankles. I had never felt more beautiful.

We should go shopping sometime, don’t you think, honey? Get you out of those awful slacks and into something meant for a figure like yours. People will start thinking you’re a boy with the clothes that you wear.

ADRIAN looks up to the audience.



ADRIAN sits in a chair. Throughout the scene, ADRIAN begins masturbating. MOM is pacing, fuming.

Disgusting. Disgusting!

And to think, I wondered why you never mentioned a boy, why you never answered when I asked you about crushes at school. Because you’ve been sneaking around with a girl?

ADRIAN moans.

So what, you’re a… I can’t even say it. I think I’m going to be sick.

ADRIAN moans.

My daughter. My beautiful little girl. I don’t know where I went wrong… Was it the divorce? Was that it? I know your father and I were a bit shaky, distant sometimes, but we were always there for you. We always supported you. And now, this?  

ADRIAN moans.

I knew we should have stuck with the therapy. It’s your father’s fault. He said it was making you unhappy, but we should have just stuck through it. Maybe you wouldn’t have ended up like this.

Maybe it’s not too late. You’re still young, you’re only a teenager, maybe I should call Dr. Napoli and see if he has any availability this week. He can help us.

ADRIAN moans.

What do you mean? You don’t know what you’re saying, Amy. You’re going through something, and it may seem right right now, but it’s only a stage, and Dr. Napoli can help you get through it.

You don’t know what you’re saying. Don’t you want to be normal? Do you really want to be a freak for the rest of your life?

MOM raises her voice. ADRIAN moans louder.

Well, you know what Amy? If you don’t want to get better, I won’t help you. I’m done helping you. I tried everything with you, bought you the nicest clothes, took you to the nicest stores, took you to the best psychologist around, I tried talking to you about boys, I told Haley’s mom to try to get Haley to talk to you about boys. I tried everything! But you still decide to sleep with that disgusting lesbian. And you know what? That makes you exactly like her.

ADRIAN climaxes.


Whispering as ADRIAN climaxes.



A disgusting lesbian.



ADRIAN is miming excited conversation with fiance downstage right, discussing details for their wedding. They are putting invitations in envelopes, blissfully in love. MOM is upstage left, with a phone to her ear.

ADRIAN’s voicemail plays.



Hey there, you’ve reached Adrian and Olivia! Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now, but leave us a message and we’ll be sure to get back to you. Thanks!


Hi Amy… Adrian. Sorry.

It’s your mom.

If you’re there… pick up, honey!

Well, that’s alright. You must be out with Olivia.

Well, anyway. I wanted to tell you that I heard the fantastic news from your father. I’m very happy for you both!

I was going to drive up when I heard, I even started baking your favorite cake. Carrot ginger, remember? I used to make it for you after school sometimes… you’d open the door and you could tell by the scent that I had made it, and your face would just light up… I was going to bake it for you, but it got super hectic at work and I couldn’t afford to miss a day… But I’m going to drive up for the weekend, with cake, you better believe it!

Anyway, honey. I just wanted to tell you that I love you and I’m just very –

Voicemail ends with a BEEP.

… very happy for you.



ADRIAN is sitting alone, finally center stage, staring out into the audience. ADRIAN addresses MOM, who is not present.


You know what I thought of when Olivia and I took Cameron to buy her prom dress today? I thought of that time you dragged me out into the city to find an outfit for my high school graduation. It was very strange, very sudden; you had already known I was gay, it was finally sinking in that I wasn’t the girl you always dreamed I would be. You had stopped taking me to boutiques and buying me clothes, years before. And you knew I was borrowing dad’s tux for graduation; that was already settled. But that day, I got home from school, wasn’t even off the bus before you grabbed my wrist and dragged me to your car. You were smiling so hard, you seemed almost manic. And you wouldn’t even tell me where we were going. “It’s a surprise,” you kept saying, “it’s a surprise.” Honestly, I was more petrified you were having a stroke than I was disappointed when you parked in front of that little boutique.

The windows were draped with such a bright shade of pink. And it sunk in, what you were trying to do again. You sat there and you screamed, “Surprise!” and you looked at me with such hope, the guilt almost resurfaced.

And you know what? I humored you. I walked in with you, and nodded when you asked me if I thought something was pretty, but the whole time, you were draining me of everything we had let grow together, all of the trust and love and acceptance. Drip by drip, with every dress you snatched from the rack and swung in my face. Every dress, you took something else out of me.

But, you know, looking back, you showed me exactly what not to do with my own kids, kids I knew I would have one day with the woman I loved. I guess I have that to thank you for.

Cameron tells me she’s in love with the boy who asked her to prom. And I couldn’t be happier for her. I’m watching that boy like a hawk, don’t get me wrong, but I’m letting her love. And I really pray that one day she finds the kind of love that I found with Olivia. And you know what, mom? I hope you find that love too.