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Thursday, October 28, 2021


by Mary K O’Melveny

Col. Wang Yaping is a pilot in the People’s Liberation Army’s Air Force. She is a space veteran, now making her second trip into orbit. She is set in the coming weeks to be the first Chinese woman to walk in space as China’s space station glides around Earth at 17,100 miles per hour. And yet, as she began a six-month mission last week at the core of China’s ambitious space program, official and news media attention fixated as much on the comparative physiology of men and women, menstruation cycles, and the 5-year-old daughter she has left behind, as they did on her accomplishments. (No one asked about the children of her two male colleagues.) Shortly before the launch, Pang Zhihao, an official with the China National Space Administration, let it be known that a cargo capsule had supplied the orbiting space station with sanitary napkins and cosmetics. “Female astronauts may be in better condition after putting on makeup,” he said in remarks shown on CCTV, the state television network. Photo: Col. Wang Yaping, center, with Col. Ye Guangfu, left, and Maj. Gen. Zhai Zhigang at a pre-launch ceremony on Oct. 15 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China. Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images —The New York Times, October 23, 2021

If one puts lipstick on an astronaut,
can she still blaze through arid
atmospheres, dangle wildly from a line 
that tethers her to the mothership 
even as she kicks up her heels 
and pirouettes out into star space?
It seems makeup is a juggernaut 
that enhances our reality. Some added
emphasis, a glowing image to re-define
a star-struck traveler, to make her trip
seem normal, like any mom who feels
a need to exit might arguably face.
There is nothing to be feared. We ought
to be glad some girl wearing a padded
suit has figured out she can still shine, 
even if she must give her family the slip.
Perhaps pancake isn’t so perfidious, but conceals
a dream or two that she might still embrace.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals. Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age is available from Finishing Line Press. Mary’s poetry collection Merging Star Hypotheses was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2020. Her latest poetry collection Dispatches From The Memory Care Museum has just been published by Kelsay Books.