Mom Paints Her Daughter’s Nails

Each nail smaller than a halved penny.
I laid my hands open, palm down on the kitchen table,
paper napkin underneath each hand,
for Mom to paint my nails. She hung her bag
on the back of a chair and pulled
her hair back with a clip.

Just home from work, I reminded her
You promised to do my nails. It takes too long
for us to realize our mothers. I lined up
the colors for her. I told her I wanted
a ladybug or maybe a watermelon
and she told me she would try.
Each brush stroke, measured and careful.

She dipped back into the jars. She shook
every new color to make sure they were mixed right.
The difference between being a girl and being a boy
was never rooted in my body
but in what touch could mean— how a mother
can touch her daughter and make her more beautiful.
How a mother can tend her son’s nails and the paint will remain
even after it’s smudged and chipped off.

— Robin Gow (from River Mouth Review)