Manicures & memories

When my daughter was little, she loved having her nails painted all different colours.
She still does, although these days she does them herself, and her hair goes through a revolving rainbow of colours too.

I used to paint her nails for her, though I wasn’t very good at it. Manicures aren’t in my talent set – I’m better at getting the nail polish on her fingers and my clothes than where it’s supposed to be. But at the same time, I loved doing it for her – it’s one of those many precious, intimate moments of parenthood, like an active synonym for connection, a metaphor for love.

And it’s one of those moments I knew should be in a poem.

I wrote this poem last year, in response to a National Poetry Day challenge – five random words and twenty-four hours to write a poem. I can’t remember what the original five words were – curtains might have been one. The poem has been through several edits – or manicures! – since then. But I know the words made me think about dementia, and what is left when the memories are gone. Painting my daughter’s nails seemed like the perfect image to build this poem from.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pohutukawa red, please

A milky skim of glaucoma curtains
your eyes, but blindness isn’t why
you’ve started to lasso me with the name
of the girl who used to do your nails.

You offer me a corrugated hand.
Pohutukawa red today please, Marie.

I moisturise your paper skin.
I trim and shape, file and buff and polish.
You tell Marie-me you used to do the same
for your daughter when she was young,
painting a different colour
on every nail.

I remember
those rainbows on my fingers and toes
the smell of Revlon
my small hand clasped like a gift
in your large hand.

You say Marie-me should meet your daughter.
She’s my apple.
She makes my heart sing
.

You tell me again how you loved
painting your daughter’s nails
when she was young.
Your age-shrunk hand rests like a gift
in my large hand.
I can’t manicure your mind, I can’t buff
and polish your neural pathways.

But I can give you rainbows on fingers and toes.
Blue for our eyes.
Green for apples, yellow for sunshine.
And red.
Pohutukawa red. Red for blood,
red for the love that still binds us.

And losing my name doesn’t matter
when this is what you remember.

This poem was first published as Painting your Nails,
in Stay Well Here, New Zealand Poetry Society Poetry Anthology 2020

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  14 comments for “Manicures & memories

  1. 17/04/2021 at 11:43 am

    Aww, this was like a beautiful trip down memory lane! Not only because it reminded me of my childhood but it also brought back beautiful memories of time spent with my nieces. I have been really close to them HOWEVER distance keeps me from spending as much time with them as I would like to. Thank you for sharing this! I’m going to send it to my sister-in-law.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      17/04/2021 at 11:48 am

      thank you

      Like

  2. The Prepping Wife
    16/04/2021 at 11:08 pm

    This poem both made me smile and made me tear up too. There is both joy and sadness in memories as time goes on. Sometimes I wonder if we fully appreciate it all. Thank you for such a beautifully written poem, Trish! This is easily a favorite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      17/04/2021 at 11:48 am

      thanks Erica

      Like

  3. 16/04/2021 at 5:00 pm

    Wow such a beautiful poem and such wonderful memories with your daughter. I could visualize and it made me so happy. Thanks for making my day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      16/04/2021 at 8:29 pm

      thank you

      Like

  4. 16/04/2021 at 9:56 am

    This is just so beautiful and so relatable. My daughter is 4 and we do this and every time I paint her little nails, she is so happy that we do this together, she sits there, excited, quietly waiting for the nail polish to dry and I can’t help but think, someday, she will not want to do this again. A beautiful poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      16/04/2021 at 8:28 pm

      aw, that is so cute.

      Like

  5. Lyosha Varezhkina
    16/04/2021 at 7:22 am

    such a sweet story! it reminds me to do my nails as well. doing nails might not be your talent but poems surely are

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      16/04/2021 at 8:27 pm

      thank you!

      Like

  6. 15/04/2021 at 6:45 am

    Oh what a beautiful story and poem! My daughter has always loved having her nails done – and I am terrible at it! (really, it should be a crime for me to pick up that brush) We now have a 3 year old boy who loves to be included. Now all 3 of us will paint our nails together on occasion. He is so proud to show them off too. I’m sure he will grow out of it, but it makes a lovely memory and it’s so nice to let him decide the things he likes on his own!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      17/04/2021 at 11:50 am

      lovely making memories together

      Like

  7. 14/04/2021 at 12:44 pm

    This is so sweet! I myself have a lot of fond memories with my younger siblings that involve painting each other’s nails!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      17/04/2021 at 11:49 am

      thank you

      Like

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