lipstick

It was what he perceived as failure
my father most despised–
so that no matter how hard my mother tried
she got it wrong--applying the left side,
he thought, too high.

She'd lean in closer to the mirror and attempt
two identical arches, pull back and lift
her chin, turning her head slightly side to side,
finish off the lower lip, blot, and let the tissue
float down into the basket,

then reach for the Pond's
to remove the lipstick and begin again
until the skin around her mouth was pink–
and again, until she rubbed it raw
trying to get the sides to match.

That he was powerless to stanch the wound
was what fueled my father's rage–
seeing what he could not otherwise know:
the rough country within her–
her hand following whatever contour it took.