Poem of the Week | February 05, 2018

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Marianne Kunkel. Kunkel is the author of The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press) as well as poems featured in Notre Dame Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rattle, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor of creative writing and publishing at Missouri Western State University, where she is editor-in-chief of The Mochila Review and faculty advisor of Canvas.

This poem appears in her forthcoming book of poetry, Hillary, Made Up (Stephen F. Austin State University Press).


Brow Pencil to Hillary

To all the little girls who are watching this: never doubt how valuable, how powerful, and how deserving of every opportunity you are to pursue your own dreams. —Hillary Clinton
Have you heard? The new trend’s
power brows, making them big
as blackboard erasers, archless,
and furrier than chows. Teen models
sport these caterpillars effortlessly,
too young to have ever plucked
like mad back when the trend
was dental floss-thin brows, back when
a woman could catch tweezer fever
and uproot every last frail hair,
then sharpen me and, like calligraphy,
draw dainty arches. Now I fly off shelves
for a different use: women
with endangered or extinct brows
want power brows, the look
of a feral beast, the exhilarating addition
of fear and awe to a first impression.
Like a protein shake, I bulk up brows,
my tip deliberately blunt
for long, broad strokes that shade in
every woman’s barren arches.
Have you noticed your stylist applying me
more thickly lately? Do your fabricated
bushy brows remind you of wild,
unfettered childhood? Just think, girls
today preserve each strand of power,
aware their mothers chase substitutes,
aware strong brows are only the beginning.

Author’s Note:

On the morning of Nov. 9, I woke up feeling overwhelmed by the surprise results of the election. I carried out my normal routine for getting ready for work, including putting on makeup, but for the first time in my life I paused while applying my many pieces of makeup. I was sensitive to the sexism at play in the election results, and I felt that the notion that women can have it all–powerful careers and also physical beauty–was a myth. Makeup no longer felt like something I did for fun or to feel pretty; I sensed that it contributed to my gender being perceived as weaker.
This upwelling of confusion and anger at makeup led me to write this poem. It’s part of a full-length manuscript I wrote in the summer of 2017 that consists entirely of poems told from the perspectives of different kinds of makeup to Hillary Clinton. One question I heard posed during the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election was whether or not Ms. Clinton had stopped wearing makeup or, if she still wore it, how little or how much. This is, of course, none of our business; what did feel appropriate for me to wonder about and explore is the tension between makeup as something some women begrudgingly wear and something that is allowed access to an extremely personal realm–women’s faces. In this poem, which is really a tribute to Ms. Clinton’s beautiful message to girls and young women in her concession speech, the makeup in profile foresees its own extinction.