Painted Lady

 In the last few years of her life, my grandmother’s dementia took many things away from her. It was difficult to watch her become a version of herself through changes she had no control over. Playing around with makeup was one way we would try to revisit her old self.

Inang puckers her lips at the sight
of the uncapped tube.
It’s the color of raw ube,
a shade too bright for skin
as pinched as the bark of an old banyan.
But she lets me paint her anyway.

She does not complain as I sweep
the rouge across the apples of her sunken
cheeks or fill in the faded outline of her eyebrows.
I mix the pigments like memories, hoping
the hues bring her a clarity she has lost

a glimmer of an old routine,
some habit that has not yet died,
the name of the grandchild beside her
she has long forgotten.

When I am done, she smiles at the reflection
staring back at her from the mirror
with just a faint hint of recognition,
nodding as I say

           So beautiful.

And she believes my words
even after I wipe
all the paint away.

Verna Zafra-Kasala (she/her) was born in the Philippines but was raised and still lives in the Pacific island of Guåhan (Guam). Her work has appeared in Gasher Press, Split Lip Magazine, and The Tiger Moth Review, among others. She is also the author of the micro chapbook of poetry Rites of Passing (Porkbelly Press, 2023).