I shuffled the morning with my bare legs
and jeweled bottle.
Mother called it varnish.
The beginning of her insomnia.
She fought not sleeping all night on the couch.
I could see it in her posture at the breakfast counter,
cotton blanket falling to the floor in an apostrophe.
My sisters slept with their mouths open.
Father snored sonorously in the shaded bedroom.
I shook the bottle like a small bell, listening
to the pebble rattle, swirling
the pearlized color.

I crossed my legs in a rectangle
of reflected sun, the carpeting warm,
as if light beamed in from Bermuda
or Middle Earth, despite the snow.
I was curious about my hands,
dexterity with a nail brush.
The color rushed my ears,
the exact same shade as inside
the souvenir conch
decorating our bathroom.

The liquid swelled in ways
I couldn’t anticipate,
thickly from the blunt end.
I started over twice.
The specter of a smile
at the back of mother’s eyes.
I tried again, and a lake of ballet
slipper overspilled the cuticles.

Here, said mother, kneeling
beside me with a telltale pop.
She came into my oblong
of light, and I held out my hands.
She curled them in her own,
pushing back the cuticles
gently with her thumb,

Mother painted my nails one
after another, with one long
and two short strokes for each,
the color smooth and lustrous,
catching the sun, her face tilted
to the task, something unwinding
in her along with the gritted
smile, my ten fingers
happy as bubblegum.

Tori Grant Welhouse is a Wisconsin writer, photographer, and volunteer with Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (wfop.org), co-collaborating on Bramble Literary Magazine. She earned an MFA from Antioch International, London and published a poetry chapbook, Canned, with Finishing Line Press. Her poetry appears in Anderbo, Midwest Prairie Review, Passager, ROAR, Rivet, and others. www.torigrantwelhouse.com.