[When I was 23, I had my first taste]

When I was 23, I had my first taste

of amaro, an Italian liqueur

 

that smelled just like my mother's make up.

Rosemary and sage, alcoholic heat

 

and fragrant wood burned through my nose. Its name

buzzed between my tongue and teeth, Erno Laszlo,

 

and the memory of my mother's minute frenzy

each morning came back to me:

 

smacking cream onto her face in the soft

light of the bathroom mirror, stretching

 

her mouth and eyes wide to pull her cheeks taut,

fingers sweeping over her nose

 

as juniper and lemon balm filled the air

and drifted to where I, like a ghost,

 

studied her from the tub. At night, she

washed her face with sea mud soap, an oily

 

black bar she'd hold under a steaming faucet

until she'd worked up a thick gray foam

 

to lather her brow, down her temples

and across her cheeks to the edge

 

of her bird-bone jaw, over and around

the airtight grimace of her lips,

 

her face a storm cloud, puffy and bare, drifting

above her body to bed. A dark concentration

 

passed over her face like a screen

for privately undoing, for unbecoming

 

someone to watch, as if to say this is how

you show yourself to someone you love.

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