Poem by Mary Ardery




There are as many shades of therapeutic rapport as there are lipsticks
at CVS. Once, you told me you still aspired to shoot up like a lady,

so I know you wouldn’t have taken it personally—the vixen red
I wore that morning. How I smothered my lips in Cloud Nine Crimson

without the slightest sense of decorum, no intuitive tug or cosmic
hint of sorrow before heading to work. I smiled into my make-up mirror

as your boyfriend called the ambulance and the hospital called your parents,
your dad called your sister and your sister told your nephews

in fragile, inadequate words, then phoned the clinic to tell
the rest of us, your treatment team, what happened.

I hid in the bathroom as tears made estuaries of my mascara, my rouge,
and I stared at my reflection—that sick fascination we’d both had with pain,

confusing it too often for beauty. That time you said Mary,
I’m surprised you’re not an addict, too and meant it as a compliment,

meaning those who struggle most are superior. Meaning what
could be more feminine than proof of pain? I wish

I had a picture to preserve you. We would have been friends
had we met in another context. You carried a photo

of your grinning nephews through those long months of treatment,
but you wore out their smiles with all that unfolding and refolding.

You said it was the only way to make each day bearable. An overused crease
just like the delicate bend in your elbow: softening, softening, then gone.