“Her Vanity” by Marc Alan Di Martino

Anonymous Was a Woman by Natascha Graham, impressionistic painting of a woman's back

Image: “Anonymous Was a Woman” by Natascha Graham. “Her Vanity” was written by Marc Alan Di Martino for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, March 2022, and selected as the Assistant Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Marc Alan Di Martino


My mother used to sit like this before
her vanity, her shoulders bathed
in blue and pink light, her powdered skin
dredged in a cloud of talc, breathing it in.
Oblivious at seventeen, she wanted
more than anything to look her best
when Eddie Fisher offered her a Coke
in his posh Manhattan hotel suite.
I sat with her in a room off Times Square
years later, our last outing together
before the nursing homes enchained her.
She told me the story—as she said,
for the umpteenth time—of how she’d met
the singer whose career nosedived the day
Elvis broke the charts with “Heartbreak Hotel.”
They shared a Coke, the story went: his lips
kissing the weightless ‘O’ of the glass
bottle which was furtively snatched up
from where he’d set it down, forgotten it,
by her swift hand. Later, she told us
about the talcosis, how it affected
her breathing. For the rest of her life
she saw a pulmonologist. I sat there
letting her regale me with the tale
of Eddie Fisher for the umpteenth time
in a cheap hotel room off Times Square,
a crooked mirror fixed above the sink
a painting of a woman on the wall
which might have been her, poised
at her vanity, poisoning herself for love.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
March 2022, Assistant Editor’s Choice


Comment from the assistant editor, Megan Green: “When I read ‘Her Vanity’ and then look at ‘Anonymous Was a Woman,’ it’s so easy to see the poet’s mother, dreamlike in a ‘cloud of talc,’ disrobed and vulnerable but also vibrant and resilient. She seems, in both the painting and the poem, to be frozen in time, at once a youthful beauty and an older woman lost in memory. The poet’s choice of language is deceptively and skillfully effortless: ‘My mother used to sit like this/before her vanity,’ the poem begins, a line that appears simple yet contains layers of music and meaning. The vividness of the narrative and the unspoken questions about the value of beauty combine to create an extraordinary poem that reflects an extraordinary work of art.”

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