Skip to content

Poem May 2024

Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us

Scrub your face with a vengeance.

Brush your teeth till your gums bleed.

Comb your hair into a pompadour, braid it

into cornrows, buzz cut a flattop with side skirts,

spit-paste that cowlick to your forehead.

That’s how it begins, this becoming who you aren’t.

A twitch or tic or two you may inherit, but the face

in the mirror you recognized only once

before you’re beguiled by the frailties of those who

precede you — your wayward Aunt Amelia,

the lying politician, tongue flickering through his false

teeth, the long-legged temptress slyly sipping a latté

at the corner coffee shop, your scapegrace 

one-eyed Uncle Bill — all of them competing

for your attention, all of them wanting you to become

who they believed they were going to be.

Between intention and action, take a deep breath

and welcome the moment you become who you aren’t.

Slap on Uncle Bill’s black eye patch,

stuff those willful curls under Aunt Amelia’s cloche,

pluck your eyebrows, rouge your cheeks, bleach

those teeth whiter than light: then stare deep into

the reflection behind the mirror: who you’ve become

will trouble you, even if you shut your eyes.  

            — Stephen E. Smith

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. His memoir The Year We Danced is being released this month by Apprentice House Press.