Angela Allen

Six open lipsticks, in various shades of pink and red, in gold cases, photographed from above against a black background.

The mothers lay like the dead
on their beds, shoes shook free,
those late afternoons when
we rushed home from school,
worn thin by beauty parlors,
their altar guilds and lunches,
shopping Winn-Dixie (in heels),
fatigued by writing lists for the help:
“polish silver, and floors, if time,”
printed in big black block letters
if maids and handymen
had left school in first grade.

At 6, the dads came home,
rolled up their shirtsleeves,
threw in some laughs,
poured fingers of Scotch
into Old-Fashioned glasses,
pitched in some ice
as evenings stayed hot, then
handed off drinks to wives
revived by swipes of lipstick,
by maybe a joke,
by warming up rice and roasts
left on the stove by the help.

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
 They may not mean to, but they do.”
That’s what Philip Larkin wrote
less than a century ago,
warning us wryly
with mid-century sullenness
to forego having children,
who multiplied mistakes
because “man hands on misery to man.”
But we did.
And ours, in no time,
will be the mums and dads.