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The holiday cards were signed "Great,"
the name we gave her,
small mouths never rolling through
"Great-grandmother" without a bump.
As a girl, three years at the mill,
no smiles, no breaks, no sun-warmed brick at her back
and trails of cigarette smoke echoing stacked towers.
Painted eyebrows raised in her wake,
that one sure puts on airs.
She left, carrying
a tricked-out makeup case,
ready to spring like a coiled snake.
Bony knees and strong thighs
ground foothills into vistas.
The smell of castor oil and colored wax
wrapped in the deception of Perky Peony
and Manhattan Scarlet. Rolls of quarters
for the down payment on the dress shop,
downtown Granite Falls.
Then the real Manhattan, garment district,
the first of her clan to go.
Decades later, amid dusty hat boxes,
lipstick samples still roll and clatter
from under the attic eaves.
Tonight in mirrored reflection
you ask why I'm toying
with the tools of the patriarchy.
Why can't I look more earthy,
like your vision of a me that never was?
My answer, part wax, part "bless your heart,"
holds a meaning far more offensive.
Your image vanishes in a quizzical tilt,
as you wonder how you've been bested
by a hard-scrabble Appalachian girl
with an invisible lipstick
curled in her palm.
Laura Sloan Patterson is an associate professor of English and the director of a writing program at Seton Hill University in western Pennsylvania. Her articles, on topics such as bridal fashion and advertising, fashion and feminism in academia, and sexual assault in southern literature, have appeared in Feminist Media Studies, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Women's Studies, and Mississippi Quarterly. She is also the author of Stirring the Pot: The Kitchen and Domesticity in the Fiction of Southern Women.
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