These quiet mornings
are cuts of cow tongue
hung from braided wire
in a conditioned room –
latch onto recycled air
in search of an escape route
from the silence.
On days like this
the unkempt edges of my perspective
are tailored with gilded lace,
stitched in such a way
that I can’t look at it straight
but its iridescence
reflects into my vision
and I watch the world
with gold in my eyes.
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.
When I make breakfast in the morning,
I tune in to a YouTube CNN live stream
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.
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
your fact too faultlessly
seamless to be real.
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.
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.
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
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
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 –
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
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,
Your screenplay lays
coffined in its purple folder
on my bookshelf
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