Coral Powders

by Ken Harnisch

On my mother’s lime green dresser top
Were the jars and bottles and emollients
Of a life lived in disguise.

The rouges I found most fascinating;
The powder puffs most irritating;
But when she was trying to hide a bruise or wound
She slapped them against her skin
Until the purple-blue was almost gone.

My sisters learned how to unscrew the caps
When they played dress-up.
The fog from coral powders they patted on their
Cheeks filled the bedroom with a soft pink fog
Whose smoke I can still taste on my tongue

My mother gave up dabbing when her third husband died
And having no more need to transform wounds
Into wonder, became starkly and sincerely real
She always seemed more beautiful
Without her powders anyway

I carried no mementoes from that place;
It was left to a sister to send me, recently,
Photos of myself when I was young
And beyond innocent. So beyond
There was no recognition in the boy
For what and who became the man

And it occurred to me that mine
Was not an honest evolution
But the broken pavement
Walked by lonely souls
Who cross streets on a whim
To avoid a stranger

I wondered at times if
The coral powder would
Have rendered me invisible
Or at least transformed the boy
From a frog into a prince

My sisters, after all, thought it made them beautiful
But having my doubts, yet not
Wanting to know if indeed it might be true,
I stayed unvarnished and plain,
Loathing excess and disguise
While not really knowing why


Posted on 07/02/2010
Copyright © 2021 Ken Harnisch

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by George Hoerner on 07/02/10 at 02:56 PM

Yes, truly excellent write sir. I wonder what makes a man feel so weak he must attack a woman to prove himself? Maybe a hold over from when we lived in caves. But then we still do act like cave men don't we just cover our bodies with different clothes and pretend a lot that we are not. Again, really nice write.

Posted by Linda Fuller on 07/02/10 at 04:00 PM

Powerful, beautifully written poem. The first four stanzas were particularly evocative for me. My mother had a dressing table holding powder and perfume - lines 3-5 in your third stanza brought that back incredibly strongly - see, smell, taste. Thank you for that, and for this poem in its entirety.

Posted by Therese Elaine on 07/02/10 at 04:29 PM

What gorgeously bittersweet sensory images you recreate here...the vulnerability of a woman's facade, the methods of self-construction and self-destruction we go through, shaping ourselves out of the materials we feel we are best suited to, least afraid of...this makes memories I haven't had yet ache with their potential power...

Posted by Joan Serratelli on 07/03/10 at 09:40 PM

This piece is a slice of real life, beautifully detailed. Thank you for sharing these memories.

Posted by Glenn Currier on 07/12/10 at 04:05 PM

Oh man, what a poem! It is so vivid and heart-wrenching. The 6th stanza is packed with meaning and my favorite. I have read it several times - each time new layers appear. I sure do relate to the broken pavement. That image well represents my own evolution / experience. How many lonely souls have traipsed across that journey... I suppose I will never really know. The different ways each person experiences the coral powders is striking and so well expressed. Thanks for this wonderful piece, George. It makes me cherish that little Kensoul.

Posted by Alison McKenzie on 07/21/10 at 06:41 AM

Neither your froghood nor your princely evolution would have required coral. This is an eloquent perspective of her, and of how her life touched yours - a touching tribute, Ken.

Posted by Elizabeth Shaw on 08/03/10 at 02:44 AM

well i very much like this boy who became the man who wrote this poem as it touches my heart with its gentle fingers / does not cut where it hurts.

Posted by Lori Blair on 11/24/11 at 04:36 PM

So well written and just as heartfelt..I pause when I imagined your mother..a beauty within beauty..as I am certain you are as well. Thank you!

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