Portrait of Mollie in Three Lipsticks

by Sharon Ashton

Portrait of Mollie in Three Lipsticks

[ A version of this poem  was first performed as part of ART/WRITE: PORTRAITS PROJECT ]


Hollywood Red

Brush loaded, I don’t know how to begin.
The paint, bar-lit Cherry-B with just a 
hope of Marilyn, is ripe for smearing, 
but it’s hard to shape those years before she
made memories of me, or I of her.
I could stand like this forever, unsure
before canvas, the only certainty 
a lacquered frame in mascara black-brown 
propped against the wall, strong enough to hold
her now solid, now flickering outline, 
but too heavy for me to lift alone.
I could stand like this forever, but in
she shimmies, singing Que Sera, Sera,
lifting me to up to daub a scarlet arc
for those ruby-lipped years before my birth,
those nights in picture houses when she wrote
her own screenplay ─ the one where a gap-toothed,
curly-haired girl escapes a mother who 
doesn’t love her, by marrying a slight,
floppy-haired man with beautiful teeth and
pale blue eyes; her very own Sinatra
who will sing with her Que Sera, Sera… 


Party Pink

The next stroke is no easier; a shift,
a seeping of blood into pink blancmange,
a mess of babies made and screamed to life,
and here’s me, perched on a stool, in a room
street-lit through Venetian blinds, legs swinging 
to her singing Downtown, Downtown, while she
rustles into her new rose-patterned dress, 
and echoing Downtown, I watch as she
dribbles white bubbles of spit onto block 
mascara to make the mud that she’ll swirl 
with a fairy brush on brows and lashes,
all the time waiting for her to whirl round
and say Pucker-up, then draw her lipstick
from the corner of my mouth, up, down, up,
down and back again, and when my lips are
painted too, we dance together, Downtown… 


Everlasting Coral

Applied too heavily, this final curve 
is smudged and fissured ─ cracks wide enough to
fall through and be trapped for days of dreaming 
without colour. Put some lipstick on Mom, 
then you won’t be sad anymore, I say,
grasping at painted smiles and peachy days;
the orangeade day she brings home a suite 
of tangerine leather to place against 
the wall she’s painted Wedgwood blue, and friends
whose homes are furnished with widowed grannies
beside wartime fireplaces, come to stare; 
the tequila sunrise days that flow to
blood-shot days, when she begins to see that 
a tangerine couch and a blue-eyed man 
are not enough, and on the wireless they’re
playing 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover… 

Music citations:

Que Sera, Sera
(1956) Composer: Jay Livingston. Lyricist: Ray Evans
(1964) Composer and Lyricist: Tony Hatch
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
(1975) Composer and Lyricist: Paul Simon