Putting on My Mother’s Face

It’s only 6:45 a.m. You’re early today,

looking back at me when I squint

in the mirror above the sink,

wearing that zippered robe, smearing

cold cream on lips to remove your face

before you put your face back on.


Remember we had the same sable

eyes, until one of mine faded

to green—yours too, I see.

The smile’s a good smile, actually,

until distracted you forget to use it,

and the lower lip hangs uncertain,

a small shallow wave on the sand.


At this moment, makeup-free, we’d

get no looks from pretty boys—

not these days—they’d be shocked by the

naked face, the pointy nose, beady eyes

plain as a sparrow, set deep in bone.

We rely on our masks, don’t we?

But we also know that under the

smokey gray eyeshadow is the real fire.


You’ve got my vertical lip lines, haven’t you—

from lips pursed in pain, or quiet determination?

I picture a lady’s antique silk purse,

pale pink, deeply pleated with the cord pulled tight

to firmly hold onto what’s inside.


We also share these horizontal lines

under the nose right here, two of them,

from a lifetime of putting on smiles.

And that left eye tears up every

morning, as if it hurts to see

the truth of a woman’s aging face.


Now smile, and apply your lipstick and

mascara. I expect it of you. You who

inhabit my eyes, my widow’s peak,

my wrinkles and my cheeks.

For better or for worse, we’re partners

in this face.




Leave a Reply