by Carla M. Cherry
Got a small scar on my left cheek—
looks like a moon crater. It is most
prominent when I smile. My son
had given me chicken pox.
Impatient, I nicked the purplish scab
while I healed.
Desiring perfection, I used to cover the scar
with foundation. It felt like a mask so
I poured that oily brown mass down the drain.
When I met my man, I envied his flawless skin.
Whenever I undressed in front of him, I wrapped
my arms around my waist to hide my stretch marks.
Then one night
before I could turn off the light
he wrapped blue and white ribbons around my hips
laid me down
slid down our sheets
stroked my navel
whispered that Black mothers
are Yemaya manifest.
When he brushed his lips down
each of my crooked rivers
I knew not to covet
a child’s soft smoothness.
* * *
Last night after washing the last of the dinner dishes,
sweeping the kitchen floor, and carrying the garbage out,
I lit lavender incense and collapsed on my sofa.
Looked down at my hands. Cuticles, dry and thick
from constant hand washing with harsh school soap/
writing on chalkboards/washing them clean.
Went to my bedroom for the cocoa butter on my dresser.
As I moistened and massaged my hands, I studied
the slight upward bend of my fingertips. They are like my father’s.
Flecks of black grease dotted our sink
after Daddy washed his hands of long days
handling baggage at the airport and fixing our neighbors’ cars.
Donna and I teased him about his ashy hands. He laughed
and began keeping a tiny white tube of Curacel in his car.
I’d watch him shake the lotion down into his palms
rubbing his long brown fingers until they had a light fragrant sheen.
The day Daddy spoke his final morphine-induced words--
Your mother was here
Donna and I stroked his hands.
We clipped his fingernails, each time more gently than the last
when he flinched.
After the funeral home
placed one hand on top of the other
we admired their manicured look.
* * *
“It’s in this season,” she said.
Pulled the shoe off the shelf.
Held it against my skin.
“Look at that, it’s gorgeous with your skin tone.”
Teal with gold threading. Sure was pretty.
I don’t have anything that color in my closet, I said.
“You can wear neutral tops and bottoms and the shoes
for a pop of color. You know they don’t make a lot of things for us.”
I looked at her milk chocolate skin and wondered—
Is she just out to make a sale?
But it’s true. I went to Ricky’s a few weeks later. For lipstick.
Display case full of pale pinks. Loud reds, like for light bulbs
for those house parties after dark.
I asked the cocoa-brown salesgirl
if those were all the colors they had.
They don’t make a lot of things for us, I whispered.
She nodded. “I know. We complain about it all the time.”
Finally, at the Duane Reade in Harlem, found
a brown lipstick
pretty on my heart-shaped lips, against
my medium brown skin with golden undertones.
Carla M. Cherry is an English teacher and poet from New York City who has been published on anderbo.com. She has also published a book of poetry, Gnat Feathers and Butterfly Wings. She hopes to earn an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.