Joseph O. Legaspi: Rouge

From her floral make-up purse my mother
has fished out, flipped open her seashell
compact, the rabbit tail brush dabbed
with pressed powder swept across my
face, feathering into alabaster, a masking.

Throughout my grade school performances—
whether stuffed inside a tomato costume or
sandwiched between cardboards to resemble
a book—my mother has applied liquid
foundation—blush, talcum, mascara—to conceal
and reveal: boy and actor, flesh and porcelain.

Backstage, her slender finger glides her lipstick
red on my lips, pearly puckered. She’s leaning so
close we’re exchanging breaths. Transference
from a woman who never leaves the house
without her face impeccably drawn, hair
fashionably in a bun. Who, during the heat
of equatorial afternoons, locks her children
in her bedroom for siesta to preserve our light

skin. I am learning beauty, I am learning to be
feminine, and shoulder the cruelties accorded
a boy with flair. I put forth face of even tone,
void of harshness. What a beautiful mother
does to her son. Escorting him to the stage.

With the taste of petrolatum in my mouth,
hair slicked back with pomade, crowned
with a poinsettia head dress, I’m in the garden
of a Christmas pageant, perfumed, armored
with memorized rhyming lines and conspicuous
anonymity among bare-faced classmates. Before
a cat-eyed audience I flower, glowing in make-
shift health, rouge like smolder of the cheeks.

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