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04. Featuring: Helen Kitson

Let’s Get Tattoos


I think, She never used to bite her nails.

Her vague smile fixes on me as she stirs her tea -

I remind her she never used to take sugar,

and she cracks the inevitable joke about

being sweet enough without it.

She slurps her tea -

God, you look ugly when you do that -

she sticks her tongue out, it’s like the old days,

but I’m trapped in her suffocating kitchen,

the Peruvian mug tree, the heirloom cups.

She says she doesn’t know me any more

but I know she’s got a tattoo on her breast,

it matches the one on my shoulder.

Her husband thinks I’m a bad influence;

he’s right; but the devil’s in the detail.

I remember the tender strips of white gauze,

the anticipation when she peeled them off;

she admits she remembers the needle, the

nervous laughter, the pictures we chose together.

And the tattoo in red lipstick, over the ink.



I howl for the restless crowd,

they take their photographs

so I suppose I’m a star.

The women are disgusted,

their expressions stiffer than whalebone.

The men can’t believe their luck.

A preacher gives me his Bible smile,

there’s absolution in it

and desire, too. I’m his fallen woman,

I can fall all the way -

I wish I were the trick palomino

or the girl who walks the rope.

The man says ‘dance!’ so I do,

but my hips ache,

I’m bruised like rotten fruit.

No-one claps. The men laugh,

the women whisper to each other,

they want me dead.

The man gives me his Good Book -

he thinks I’m like Eve, falling.

The cover of the book feels like snakeskin.

My job is to dance before snakes -

the freaks who watch the freaks.

We are all falling,

With the thud and gracelessness

of heavy apples.

The Lost Girls


All my friends are men.

They never used to be,

But the girls deserted me

Having found me too dull

And yet unwilling to be the ugly one.

Men like me but they don’t want me.

We talk - no, we have conversations,

I have the jokes and the right answers

To the questions in the box.

I miss the girls and find myself staring -

I’m envious of the easiness between them,

Sticky fingers on each other’s hairslides;

Checking, criticising, confirming.



Champagne helps. At least she remembered

that I don’t eat meat, though she finds me transfixed

by the salmon, its huge eye shiny as a marble.

I want to touch it to see if it blinks

but the bride steers me towards eligible men.

My dress is pink and doesn’t suit me. I look absurd

and very much my age. The other girls are young and married


champagne is a bonus, for them, not a crutch.

They skewer sausages and pineapple chunks

and pop them into their tiny pink mouths.

All I want is the bouquet and a shower of confetti

that I will choose to interpret as providential.

The other girls will smile at me kindly

but their hearts won’t be in it. I wish the bride well,

take a photo. I leave a trail of limp petals.

Snow White


After he kissed me, he wiped his mouth

on the back of his hand.

I was awake but was I?

I looked the other way.

On the morning of our wedding,

my mother told me that it hurts to be a wife;

that on my snowywhite dress

he would leave a patch of blood.

Years passed. My mother asked me

where were the babies?

I broke my looking glass -

seven years’ bad luck,

seven babies I’d never have.

I looked into the cracked glass

and saw several of me,

split apart, sharp, shattered.

Not so fair any more, my dear...

My husband never touches me

and I need him to make me bleed,

to stain my snowywhite heart.

I am his sister and his mother,

he buys me things, he has no mistress.

I want another kiss

I am too demanding.

On our anniversary we drink champagne,

get drunk, and fall into bed.

Soon he’s asleep and snoring. I want

sleep too, I bite his lips, his rosered lips.

They taste of poison.

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