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.