our old house

Anna Krem

Woman Wearing Earring in Mirror

By mrgreen09 via Wikimedia Commons

My mother stands at the mirror
in the bathroom of our old house,
holding a cheap plastic palette of makeup
she bought on clearance a year ago.
She swabs at a square with the stubby black brush,
then spreads the bristles over her cheeks
haphazardly, with intense concentration.
It does not change her face.
My mother doesn’t know how to use makeup.
I taught myself in high school.
I also taught myself how to shave.
I thought it unfair that my mother couldn’t teach me
the things my friends’ mothers taught them–
how to look a lady in detail–look
younger than your age.
My mother always looks her age, these days even more so.
Her cheeks have started to sag, her hair
to gleam with white.
Her bangs, which she cuts for herself,
hang crookedly off her forehead.
I look at my mother, standing at the mirror
in the bathroom of our old house:
I feel at this moment, my home is my home
from my childhood for the last time.
Our roles have shifted. I want to take
the brush from my mother’s hands and teach her.
I don’t. I don’t mind my mother looking her age,
because in it I see her truth,
the years washing over her face, and I understand,
and I forgive her for
not teaching me how to use makeup.
Because I think, how beautiful the lines
on her wear-worn face–
how I myself have grown up, grown old;
how I’d like to look my age too.


Anna Krem is the pen name of a physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She lives in the Boston area.

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