What made Madame foreign was not her way of replacing our homegrown
teacher with stories of Paris escaping the blue neck scarf she wore like a
tourniquet. Or that we measured the minutes of French class in the distance her
bra strap traveled from shoulder to elbow beneath her white silk blouse. None of
that mattered. What made her foreign was lipstick. She wore it daily in a town
whose women reserved it for church and high school reunions. My mother was
one of those women. She stocked Avon samples like weapons in her underwear
drawer. When duty called, she’d uncap one of the white bullets and grind its
chiseled tip into her lips. If the average woman eats almost ten pounds of lipstick
by the time she dies, my mother won’t come close. Even Madame was not
average. She consumed so little of the color she wore. Her lips molted in winter
and each stormy phoneme loosened another coral shingle. I associated with
language this falling away and accretion in places unknown. Madame was my
first lesson in future perfect, as in her lips will have disappeared many times
before she dies.
Diane LeBlanc is a writer, teacher, and book artist. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Sudden Geography (2014), Dancer with Good Sow (2008), and Hope in Zone Four (1998). Her essay “Work in Progress” appears in Claiming Our Callings: Toward a New Understanding of Vocation in the Liberal Arts (Oxford University Press, 2014). Her poetry and prose appear in Bellingham Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Journal, Water~Stone, and other journals. Diane teaches writing and gender studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Website: www.dianeleblancwriter.com .