• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 04
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In 2007, on my first assignment to Kabul, a woman at the office where I worked asked me for nail polish. Her skin was weathered and her clothes worn. We couldn’t communicate in any common language except perhaps the universal language women speak. She pointed to my painted nails, then to her nails. The next day she had her red nail polish.

As a journalist, I was based in Afghanistan for 18-months (over a four-year period), and during this time the ‘issue of women’ became something of a passion for me. I wanted to write about the suffering so many women endured because of endemic domestic violence. I wrote about why they stayed and the diabolical circumstances that conspired to keep them in homes and with families that abuse them.

The explanations are, of course, complicated, and one reason is that the solution is often no better than the problem. If women are illiterate, which almost 90 per cent in Afghanistan are, unskilled, dependent, leaving can mean total alienation where they are separated from their children, ostracised by their communities and rejected by families who do not want them back. Luckily, there are some safe houses, but that is also only a temporary solution.

The moment the woman in Kabul asked me for nail varnish, which was banned under the Taliban, I felt a sense of kinship because lipstick for me, rather than nail polish, provides my protection against the world. I am never without it.

In southern Afghanistan, in ultra-conservative provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, women seem like an illusion, more shapes and shades than flesh and blood, their presence only hinted at by the fleeting glimpse of a blue burqa. Read more >


Pink talks

When we came to earth we found them,
La-sticks we called them, precious currency to mark our
We did not know what the different colours once signified, only that
Some seemed for every-day use and others remained pristine.
We lined them up as
That no one lived in or could.
Towers where colour was so bright and yet had been worn away.
We reflected on them, and cast
Their reflections into our pools.
We tried to understand their language, but could not.
Who should tell us what gold means against silver?
Why they can be retracted up and down?
What does the bright colour mean against the soft?
One is for power, the other for submission, we understand.
The La-stick does not speak, it cannot answer, it
Has no mouth.


I Say a Little Prayer for You

And only dimly aware of several things to be done—
all of which will fail to give pleasure—
I’m back asleep, the bulk of outer life continuing over me.

New instincts (no doubt speech was one)
must feel at first like massive hidden smears.


I Buy a Lipstick

To compose the self, begin with colour,
an evolving palette, a story of
grotesque days, passive nights
O and more—

Who relishes texture—the plush faux fur,
a breeze of silk—and who
selects the flat, the deflection of
utter smooth?

Each man, each woman on the street
walks in revelation.


Paint Lead

“I thought relic worship went out with the Middle Ages?”
The two of us doubled up in what was thought
of as reflection. Or, as if by way of demonstration
we had kissed ourselves stupid with a contaminant
not listed in air, water or soil. Here one sucks
on some purported fragment of the artist’s skull,
cushions in ‘Maximum Red’, ‘Positive Addict’ natural
as bleached canvas floats in fashionable oblivion.
Lip trills, ‘Paint Me Compassionate’, as a mouth
in Victorious Cupid, 1606, or that ‘True Red,’ spurt
of woolly string necking at Judith’s beheaded. See,
if a quiver of pigmented arrows tips matter into making
the mind “give way”, what lies with ease to cross
the placenta, enters the foetal brain with toxic smile?
At the point of two contrasted extremes gradually
each begins to prepare for a union built up in the body
over time, each alone, final in the knowledge that it is
never safe from any level of exposure. This monumental
die-off slow gloss showing as paintings’ leaden proof.

Made Up

Pink lips
Cherry blossom
Winter breath

Brown lips
Solid oak
Bare furnishings

Scarlet lips
Scrunched up tissue
Blood on snow

Purple lips
Open wine
Sour tongue

Orange lips
Clown smile
Candied laughter

Black lips
Stiff jaw

Bare lips

Open lips
A snatch of verse
A moment of time


The Red Engine

I stand up to the mirror and I face my demons.

Feeling the warm wax of my mother's kiss under my fingertips, I slowly twist the base and watch the bullet unravel, as if plucked backwards from time.

To me, this was my mother's lipstick shade. A trail of DNA, evidence smeared down the barrel.

In those days, they had to pick and choose. They averted their eyes to the chemicals and numbers. The only numbers they focused on were the shade. Or so she told me.

Now, of course, we have nothing but numbers.

The coding of it, the digitisation of the wardrobes, our choices. Garments had become our doctors, our confidantes, our everything. It tracked us and became us. It melded into our skin. Our bodies had segmented, turned into a paint-by-numbers that only clothes could fill.

But I still use the lipstick. The number of degrees between me and this small tube oddly makes me feel more attuned to it. The clumsiness of the red wax tripping over my cupid's bow, painting outside the edges. The comfort it gives me.

It makes me think of my ancestors, using this outdated technology. The delight of the click as its analogue switch, the joy of twisting our wrists to open it like casting a magic spell.

Time travel does exist.

The red engine is my time portal.



We're almost there,
in essence we're there already,
untouched by the pink/blue dichotomy,
under the skin we do not need beauty,
cleverness, artifice, nor war.

We love and live in the same atmosphere.

Despite inhuman rage and waste
lives our elfin self,
always aware of alignment to the other.

We are triumphant.


Painting on the Walls of a Prison

Lip smack
blood stain
purple rain paradise
velvet crimson seduction

Smooth skin
clown mask
catch every glance
in a mirror’s reflection

Longing for self-esteem
praying it’s all a dream
to wake from…released
naked, innocent, free

The chains of beauty
drawn on, sometimes smeared
with tears
of longing, of lacking
that no amount of paint
can cover up

The soul is screaming for an escape
but the flesh is itching
for a fresh coat fix
and, for one more night,
on it goes


Who Are They Anyway?

They said you must be gold. Must want the avarice of elegance. Understated awaiting of riches of anything.

They said silver is still attached to the mines, to the dirt of miners.

They said you are chic, they said you have the right teeth.

They said you cannot have two voices.

They said Coral is more sophisticated than Fuschia poised as a rocket to ask for it.

They said the smears are your shame.

They said you are blurred as a person.

As a woman.

They said your different voices cannot speak together.

They were wrong.


Still Another View of Life

Those pink and red lipsticks,
Those pink and red smudges on the wall.

You drew close to me then,
My past came crumbling down,
Your lipsticks took it all.

Now, I look for you,
Behind bushes, in apartments, college canteens,
In the city with a hundred mirrors,
Reflecting an unfinished image
Of myself, a mothballed picture.


Knock knock

Her room has been left untouched.

Leaving me feeling a bit touched at times.

We are opposite poles. Blurry reflections. What was, what is. Him in between. Past, present. Now, though only barely.

Her colours taint my life. Her colours drain mine in fact.

Yet I remain. Her shadow covering mine.

She is more fully here now, than she ever was at any time in her life, at any time in their marriage. It is as if she has been highlighted. Neon blinking lights. Dead on arrival. Arrival on dead. The missing are often more presently present than those presently so. Why is that? Step outside to truly reach inside?

I met him just 8 weeks after his wife passed over. It is amazing how you can meet someone who is not really there, and yet so clearly see them.

By that time he had made their room into a shrine and moved into the guestroom.

He was prepared to be just that from then on in: a guest in his own life.

Never completely, fully present. Always on his way somewhere else. So as not to face what is here, what is lacking here. Escaping what is not. Knock knock.
Read more >


The Transformation

I feel like I’m always trying to catch up with her, trailing after her like a lovesick puppy. Whatever Cathy does, I always do it afterwards, coming in second. She even grows up at an alarming rate, experimenting with fuchsia lipsticks and going on dates with boys.

I stand before the mirror, a magenta lipstick in my hand and smear it over my lips. It is oily and slick, staining my teeth. It feels horrible like a wax crayon gone wrong. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Why would anyone want to wear something so greasy on their lips, where everyone can see it?

Personally, I don’t think boys find it attractive; I think they just say they do to see the girl smile, and really there’s something else they find far more attractive.

Cathy doesn’t know this but I often spy on her when she plasters her face with make-up. The transformation is a long and complicated process with Cathy taking painstaking steps to ensure nothing bleeds, smudges or runs. Her movements are careful, considerate, plucking her way though her extensive make-up collection as though they are precious jewels.

Once the lipstick has been applied, Cathy leans close to the mirror and looks as if she is about to kiss it. For a moment, I honestly think she does but she stops less than three inches away and goes ‘Mwah!’, instead. I stuff my hand in front of my mouth, trying to stifle the giggle. It seems to work for a bit but then Cathy slips her top off one shoulder, scrapes her hair back into her hand, and winks at herself which is quickly followed by another ‘Mwah!’

Read more >


They Never Gave Me One Inch

An inch. One lousy inch. But that one inch was the difference between me needing psychotherapy and her being successful and...yeah, I know, it shouldn't matter but it always has and always will. I rubbed my fingers over the pencil strokes on the wall, Gillian had always been ahead, taller in so many ways, better at everything; except love.

How can Gillian's third divorce be shrugged off by Mum and Dad yet when I get promoted all they show is a feigned interest. My psychotherapist says I should have nothing to do with my family, move away, start a new life. It's tempting. But maybe I'm as addicted to my lack of self worth as Gillian is to praise.

No-one saw it coming: Gillian's suicide.

But even that never mattered in the long run. A corpse is still more important to my parents than a body filled with flowing blood. They never gave me one inch.


The Room

We were swigging red wine
I don’t like beer
This one was really good
Among the crowd
A terrace on the pavement
Some carrying suitcases
The one without wheels
Is waiting for me
A couple of things
And I quickly find myself
On the train
I turn to look at the room
It’s full of some writings
Beauty products
Lipsticks…red, lilac, used,
Brand new
Nuances under consideration –
Necessary or not?
Dirty cups of coffee
On the table
Funny fingerprint
Marks at the bottom
Future foretold
Read more >


A Grotesque Narrative of Lipsticks

'There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.' –Edith Wharton

Hot breath steams the mirror,
obliterating the view.
Her mind is fluctuating, when seeing
the simulacrum
of two perfectly framed lipsticks
flickers thru the vapour.—

What to wear?
The red or the pink?
—A dilemma!!

from Umberto Eco’s On Beauty
begin to reverberate in her mind.

Waves of hot breath have come again.
{Rites of passage…}
Standing in front of the mirror: There’s no escape.—
The dilemma, again!!

A theory of aesthetics start fermenting in her mind
as her fingers start contouring those lush lips.
& yeasts of progressive post-modern poetry start glittering
on her glossy rubies.—A gateway to the fathomless…

Lipstick is not a luxury.
Lipstick is a (tiny) text. {It is hard to write, but at least it’s quick.}
Lipstick is a perfectly written haiku
{distilled & distilled & distilled till} decoding
all feminine reMorse Codes.{till the mirror shatters}



The small round magnifying mirror from the bedroom almost fell onto the path as she stood it in the bird bath, but she caught it just in time. See, she could still do things with her hands despite them being knobbled and bent. She wasn’t a fool either, it was summer and the water had dried in the bird bath, she wouldn’t have put the mirror in with the water. She had dementia, she knew that, but it didn’t make her a fool. The bird bath was the obvious place — the new one at physio said you had to adapt to your circumstances. She was doing that. It was too dark to see properly in the bedroom now that the bulb had gone — the bird bath was the same height as her head when she sat on the bench.

She drew the orange lipstick across her narrow lips, enjoying the press of the brand new lopsided point. She pushed at one side of her white hair and pinned it into asymmetric shape. She wasn’t going to put her black and white dress on in the garden — she wasn’t a fool. She unzipped her wash bag and poured her twenty six other lipsticks onto the bench, removed each gold top, unscrewed each one and placed them in a line beside her, alternating orange and cerise pink. She leant back against the arm of the bench and smiled at her neat row of brand new lopsided sticks.



The colours reveal our differences:
Lips picked out in salmon pink,
like a bullfinch’s breast,
she is all subtlety and discernment.
Clashing beautifully with my red hair,
I stage a shocking pink rebellion.
Women of the world, we giggle,
show off our dressing-up box finery,
leave the lipsticks sentinel
before the weeping mirror.



What it is that makes us tick
is, the red seed emerging from a pinprick
about to be sucked into the deeper reds
of a mouth unhurt.
It is brick upon brick upon brick
and wax about the wick
of the crimson candle stick.
Until we recognise something of that
inexpressible quality
what is it?
A shade we'd like to smack you in the face with
(apply, if you have what it takes)
we have turned our sloping white faces away.
Nothing will come of this, we say to each other.



Tell me why
You never wear that colour for me
And why it now sits there

Tell me why
You wore that just to go to the gym
Why it was needed
For a power yoga position
Or a whim

Tell me why
I only see you in the other
Is it just a gloss
A pretention
Or a signal for another

Tell me when
You will tell me the truth
The reflection in the old mirror
Is stained
The glass faded
Age-damaged goods


Make My Day

Waiting here on the shelf
Which of us will she choose ?
I am tall sophisticated and delicate in colour,
In a shiny gold expensive looking case.
My rival is gaudy shocking pink
in my mind cheap and nasty
as he sits in a stubby looking, tacky, silver, metal case.
I am far more superior , in quality and appearance.
If she is in a party mood she will choose him.
If she is sober, and sensible, wanting to create an air of
efficiency, she will choose me.
Looking in the mirror she will apply me carefully
to pouting lips.
My pink glow enhancing, softly appealing,
yet not overpowering.
I can hear her foot on the stair.
Excitement mounting.
We are quivering with anticipation.
Who will be chosen this time?
Pick me! pick me!
Come on make my day.



Red or pink, pink or red. Your reflection is faded. You're older than you remembered. Red. Pink. Red for love, for lust. Is that what he'll think? Pink for girls (although once it was for boys). Pretty. Frilly, without a defined edge.

You never used to apply lipstick. You'd let your laugh entice, together with your long, sleek hair. Pink, perhaps, not so obvious. He might not notice.

Red then.

It should distract from the furrows fashioned when Ian left, or the hollows forged when Tara was ill. It's designed to say, look at me, I'm young at heart, flourishing, never mind the rest.

Even though you'll keep that hat pressed, jaunty-angled to your scalp on this warm, September evening. Even though you'll strive to convey carefree, relaxed.



We two indistinct moulds of time
stand tall in our pink venom You
read your watch and pull up your
chin You enquire about the missing
gleam on my unsettled lips I say your
face is nippier than mine You do not
debate that You drag me forth into
the thick silt of a devastated temple
The hisses of your mud fist knits
inside my mouth a fabric of anomaly
Our muddied bodies glisten in the ruins
The prayer bell demurred by chaos
slowly extinguishes into the colour
of a white sheet where we once began


Freedom of Movement

The suitcase followed in her wake,
like an out-of-sorts child.
Bored by the journey – jabbing
wildly at peoples’ ankles and legs.

The sting of invective followed,
unrecognisable except for one word.

Winter blankness – wintry expressions
with no warmth or empathy.
Bare trees devoid of spring rustling
and universal bird song.

The sting of tears with their
coruscating brightness washed her eyes.

Her wordly goods packed tightly
and with painful precision.
Jostled for space and breath
in their zippered strangle hold.

The sting of loss from family
and friends – lashed her heart.

Read more >

Can Red Lipstick Make You Braver?

It's the makeup equivalent of the trumpet
fanfare. You’ve never looked so bold and switched on;
your lips strut five steps ahead of you.

Watch the palm trees kneel as you pass them.
Every oyster in the ocean is opening up to you:
chivalry is not dead after all. Tell the maître d'

you are unhappy with the cannelloni, even though
there’s nothing wrong and you’ve never sent
a dish back in your life. Now consider

a burning building, that new fur coat you bought
on a whim. Either choice is brave. Even if you are
walking away, you are walking away fabulously.



I never leave
without them;
they make up
the façade
with which I face
the world
beyond these walls.

They lend me
a mask of maturity,
a semblance of confidence,
the brightness
to bluff my way
in life.

And so, before I leave,
I carefully apply
my coat of cyclamen,
rose or poppy,
and hook in
drops or studs.

You wouldn't want
to see me
without them.



We spend a couple of hours in Superdrug, playing with nail polish testers until every fingernail is a different glittery colour. Tammy’s mouth is a deep plummy purple – so juicy I want to take a lick. She scrubs the gloss off with a tissue, grabs the next, a cerise too pink for her skin tone.

“What d’ya think?” she asks, pursing her lips like she’s kissing the air.
Her eyes laugh at me as I stammer out: “So cool!”
Gaze fixed on mine, she snaps the cap on the gloss, stuffs it in her pocket, fast. “Now you.”
I can’t breathe, but she’s watching me. Daring me. Quickly I grab the plummy purple, stick it down my top, into my bra. See admiration and surprise widen her pupils.
We run out of the shop, giggles spilling.
Back home, I slide the lip gloss from my bra, feel it breast-warm in my hand. I tip it over, read the name: bruised kiss. Meet my own thickly mascara-lashed stare in the mirror. Feel something more bitter than sweet.


The mask I wore

I love pink - it's even there in the coloured fringe brightening my greying hair and often on my painted nails - now lasting even longer and with glitter dusted through them.

Here's the thing though - my lips never see pink, neither do my cheeks or eyes.

Oh yes - there was a time my friend when I wore the coloured hues to make up my face. To make myself prettier, more attractive to hide behind the mask.

Over time it just felt wrong - not in my head but wrong in my heart and soul. It's as if they asked to be seen by others through my natural eyes, my natural smile and my natural wrinkles.

So painted faces became just for special occasions to adorn the special dress and to some how convey the obligation I felt of 'doing my best' of 'trying'.

Then one day I realised 'doing my best' was allowing others to see me and the paint got in the way. Of course others can be seen through their painted faces but not me.

I felt as if I couldn't breath - and that came over - I wasn't me.

And so slowly the special occasions that warranted the paint reduced, until it was a once in a blue moon occasion. When even I could see the sequined dress deserved a little support.

These days hair, nails and clothes are painted well, but the face simply remains painted with the freckles and laughter lines that grow with me.

Heart and soul are happy that I am seen - and there's an ease with which I wear the natural paint. An ease I could never achieve with the pink.


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Knock knock

Her room has been left untouched.

Leaving me feeling a bit touched at times.

We are opposite poles. Blurry reflections. What was, what is. Him in between. Past, present. Now, though only barely.

Her colours taint my life. Her colours drain mine in fact.

Yet I remain. Her shadow covering mine.

She is more fully here now, than she ever was at any time in her life, at any time in their marriage. It is as if she has been highlighted. Neon blinking lights. Dead on arrival. Arrival on dead. The missing are often more presently present than those presently so. Why is that? Step outside to truly reach inside?

I met him just 8 weeks after his wife passed over. It is amazing how you can meet someone who is not really there, and yet so clearly see them.

By that time he had made their room into a shrine and moved into the guestroom.

He was prepared to be just that from then on in: a guest in his own life.

Never completely, fully present. Always on his way somewhere else. So as not to face what is here, what is lacking here. Escaping what is not. Knock knock.

He is touched, you see. He walks around untouched by her. Life has taken her from him and life now insists on eroding what is left of her. Don’t tell him, he has not noticed yet. I fear he will be completely gone when he realizes that she is so.

Read more >


This fire is matt

It was glossy once, our contained love, with some sparkle,
flecks of pink rage amongst the haze and the rain.

And now with our dull sheen and muted reflections,
the bother of addressing the who-we-weres –
the who-we-might-have-beens having already

high-tailed it to some more likely den of iniquity.
Oh for some sheer impudence let alone sheer underwear!
Then the whisper no polite cough no hem and haw

no stutter that time’s up it’s morning there’s a new day
out there didn’t you know? We nod our hands
shake our heads, acquiesce to the empty slabs

in front of us. Somewhere near, an emergency tender
blows a duo-tone that sounds uncannily like
the doppler effect trying to say I did love you.


Dead Scales

Nothing can scratch at--
It could be worse
(hold tight you pretty images)
that’s ‘ow' you sculpt—

It’s winter now,
something beats out under
the mud and swollen ground—
it hurts like lipstick

and dead among scales
frost clouds the bathroom window
and I am made up in the mirror.


Fast Feud

glazed with snowflakes,
the glass window offered
obscured gold into his room
leaving him shrouded in gloom

poor Ronald
strapped to his teak dresser
shivering a cold sweat brooding over
—what would make a meal happy?

a classic dash of red,
or a pompous serving of fuchsia?
he grimaced in the dark
juggling both options with his pride

pouting his lips, he took a swing
left to right, right to left
battered and bruised,
satisfied as a well fed moose

Red, he confirmed
—dripping red.


Silent Lips

You can’t color loss.
Even black or grey
depicts something,
and loss is nothing.

A no-thing,

presence of space
where what was once,
now is not.

A void,
      heavy in marrow.

This is loss,
a colorless page.
No hue can convey
the intrinsic value of empty.

An abyss
      with depth.

She no longer paints her lips
they remain a barren landscape,
lacking laughter and childhood.
The Nothing demands attention.



I often closed my eyes by the open window above the milling millions and imagined myself in the space between, tangled with the shades of things no longer seen. Picture it all as crowded as the marketplace at home, my friend once told me, and much of the fear of being in it passes. There'll be someone there you'll know.

We hadn't spoken much, my friend and I, on our last morning in New York. I skipped the expansive American breakfast and stayed in the room to sit by the window and smoke through my cigarettes. My friend, as usual, ate his fill downstairs and revelled in the ill-temper of the waiting staff stalking crow-like around his cluttered table. It was nearly midday when he returned with a mischievous grin.

"Come into the bathroom a moment. This'll make you smile!"

The toiletries were swept into the bin. Two lipsticks stood side by side against the bathroom mirror.

"But neither one is my colour!"

"Thought you'd miss it. Look again: Chrysler Building; Empire State. I've graciously decided you should choose."

I laughed.

"You know normal people steal towels or dressing gowns from these upmarket hotels."

"A purse left in the lobby. Someone hit the shops without their face today!"

"And look how clever you've been! Except the scale's all wrong - Chrysler's too close in size to Empire State."

Read more >



Give me back Red
it used to be enough

before bubble gum
pouted party pretty.

When Black was White
and White was Red.

Before Red found water
bled over stones
kept flowing
always seeking
new shade.

Give me
one rose
two paths
one choice



She has two lipsticks in her bag
but no pen so he keys her number in as ‘Lips’;

she never expects him to ring anyway. Men
never do, although that night, at midnight,

they speak for three hours and she tells him
things she’s never told anyone before – how

once as a child, she saw her father cry,
and her mother laugh – and he tells her

he’s tired of trying and failing and trying,
and they sleep with phones on the pillows

until the morning when a text awakes her,
Who the hell is Lips? She stares in the mirror,

asking herself the same question before
painting on her mother’s mouth, laughing.



Spice. Pirate. Black Honey. Dare to Bare. Why are there so many? What's your wife's skin tone, the girl asked. To answer truthfully would not improve the efficacy of the purchase at all. She's dark, I said, darker than you even, and her hair is dark too, though not quite as dark as mine. I left the shop with my little bag, Boots it read, perhaps not as embarrassing as its brown paper cousin, that conveyor of fruit, strong drink, and videos not suitable for a child's eyes.

The colour was wrong so it lies at the bottom of a little bag stained pink and black on the inside. You've forgotten more about buying gifts for young women than I'll ever know. It's not my fault I only had brothers. Boys I could buy for. Boys I know. Toy cars. Soldiers. Guns.



We resemble blushing fairy children,
Born from smudgy pink.
Dressed for rock and roll,
bathed in normality’s glow.
Shadow beings.
Out of the toiling lights
of lustrous colour,
our soft heads exposed.
Our Right of Passage.
We are Infinite treasure,
we will be replicated
on tissues, on letters,
on the lips of Elvis.
Tears mixed with spit
mixed with tears.


Sunday Best

He asked me on a Sunday. There are things I want to do before I leave, David said. He’d always made it sound like he was going next door, around the corner to get some milk. There was a list, typed and double-spaced. No bungee jumping? I figured that would be his thing; the air and sun beating down on his skin, the ultimate freedom. He laughed.

I got to item six. Seriously? He smiled, so sincerely that I felt I couldn’t mock him. No time like the present, I said. I took his hand and led him to the bedroom. I went through my wardrobe laying garments out on the bed. He watched, pensive, one hand perched on his bearded chin. He sat on the edge of the bed and started running his fingers down the pleats of my navy skirt. He’d have looked boxy in that but I didn’t dare tell him. He then took a pair of tights and gathered the soft fabric round his fingers. It was strange seeing him lunge into the opaque material as it clung and shaped his hairy calves. You look like you’re going to be in Swan Lake. He did a pirouette. I laughed. He went for my red wrap dress in the end. It was an excellent choice. Of course, he needed my bust to fill it out but after we accessorised with a chunky necklace, it was a very understated look.

He needed help with the make-up. Years of watching you put this stuff on, you’d think I’d have it down. He picked up the magenta lipstick, the one that had been in my make up box since the eighties and applied it to his puckered lips. I shook my head. Christ, David... I don’t know anyone who suits that colour. I tried to wipe it away with my thumb, feeling the grease slick on his soft lip. He put his cheek to my hand. I clawed my way through my make up drawer. This one is perfect: English Rose. He laughed, heartily. It slid along his lips like butter on toast. I helped him tidy the edges so it didn’t bleed.

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Wanting Doesn’t Make Promises

I never had a first date. I didn't need it. From only watching, I knew he was the one. It's true, what people say-you just know. I knew the moment we took a break at the office to play "Finish My Sentence," and he insisted on not playing. In spite of that, I tried my best to get him to join.

He wouldn't.

Day after day, we passed on the sidewalk to lunch. My feet, in black, pointed heels, stood out like a farmer arriving in downtown New York. Click, click, click. Then his feet, (definitely not a farmer's but closer) coming to meet me, in subtle brown Sperry's. Tap, tap, tap.

There's another woman with her arm looped through his. A sharp pain jabs my chest and I can't breathe. But I lift my chin and keep walking.

That's the thing with men-you can't make them choose you.

But I can in the office. I spin in my desk chair and hold out my hands to catch myself on the chiseled corners of my desk. Down in my purse, there are two shades of lipstick.

"Coral and magenta," I say out loud. One for the steady mom, and one for the sultry mistress. That girl on his arm--she'd had a shade of magenta. I guess, "Violet vengeance."

My fingers clench so tightly that my fingernails prick my palms. If I've learned one thing, it's this: Never let your husband meet your best friend.


Lipstick Kiss

I liked to watch my mother
putting on her lipstick.
I'd line up the golden bullets
of lush pinks and reds
on her dressing table
while she pouted at the mirror,
smacked her lips together then said,
'There. That's me done.'

My mother never went anywhere
without a lip-sticked kiss,
so for her final journey I painted it on.
'There, Mum,' I whispered
as I kissed ice-cold lips.
'That's you done.'


The seven stages of the life of Mary Elizabeth Arden-Quant

Nude Pink
Rose Petal
Fuzzy Peach

Pretty Please
Wild Strawberry
Dare You

Rose Crush
Tangerine Dream
Champagne fizz
Sugared Almond

Baby Pink
Fruit Punch

Roast Coffee
New York Apple
Power Red

Summer Sunset
Dusty Rose
Golden Honey
Rich Cocoa
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I am gonna dress them up.

I am gonna dress them up so
that you can take them out
on a whim

along blushed avenues
of coral and pink-hued,
perspiring with longing.

I dress them up
for the day to wear them off,
so that life can wear them out.

- these days,
there's not much
we can hold on to.

So I dress them up for you
I bare them to the seasons
in your breath, as they chase

the contours of my silence,
my sighing and my stance.
Away from the shade,

against the coarse wall,
with nowhere to hide -
the two of us

draped in persistent light -
and my lips dressed in colours
only you can call by name.



The gold and silver cylinders stood proud on the shelf, reflected mistily against the net on the damp window.
My cousin Fiona said dramatically,
'Our mothers will kill us!'
She had made the same remark before, during our Lenten Phase, as we denied ourselves many of our treats. Celebrity magazines once longingly viewed whilst chewing gum or downing copious cans of cola were out of bounds.
The Fair Was In Town and we had saved and planned for weeks to enjoy ourselves. Fiona had purloined the Cherry Charm lipstick from her mother's make-up drawer whilst I sneaked Pink Promise from mother's handbag. As we walked through the entrance the music pulsed and we heard one of the Fair boys call, 'Come on girls, have a spin on the Waltzer!' After this first ride we spent the evening twirling, whirling, screaming, laughing, spending and tasting the various stall foods. As I looked at the traces of Fiona's lipstick I remembered a line from the Thomas Hardy book we were reading in school.
'If Fancy's lips had been real cherries probably Dick's would have appeared deeply stained' We caught the 'bus home with the last of our pooled cash, jumped off and giggled like we were high on happiness. My cousin handed my empty purse and the lipstick to me,which she had carried in her bag and I crept indoors in the dark, whilst she went to her home next-door-but-one. I slipped quietly into the parental bedroom and slipped the tube into the handbag.

In the morning the explanations, recriminations and apologies to our parents resulted in us being grounded, of course. How could we have been so careless and mixed up the colours?



This shade of pink looks lovely on her lips. *
Her complexion is winter; she’s definitely a winter.
I put some rouge on her cheeks; your mother told me
Frances liked to wear rouge.
Isn’t this a beautiful blue dress?
I lined her lips a little.
Doesn’t she look younger?
Doesn’t she look just like herself, just like the photograph?

*After the funeral, at the Assisted Living Facility, on my grandmother’s dressing table, her lipstick, open, (almost the same color as the shade she wore in her coffin). The name on the base of the lipstick: carnation (the same flowers I laid on her gravestone earlier in the day).


my colours

unsqueaking glide
cosmetic waxed
across lips-vodka-fast
enhancing voice range
singing karaoke

singing karaoke
enhancing voice range
vodka-fast-across lips
cosmetic waxed
unsqueaking glide


Moisture Renew, Lasting Finish

When he was a boy, it was
only his mother who wore lipstick.
Primed in front of her bedroom vanity,
he watched her take her time and
plump her mouth with colour,
bringing her face into contrast
against the hard lines of his father.
Reds the colour of the neighbour’s front door
and the special Sunday-only napkins,
they served to Aunt Jean and Uncle Roger.
Things changed, and then his sister
lifted bubblegum or sunburst
flavoured oranges and scarlets
and purple lipsticks from
department stores, hiding them under
school cardigans and inside
the heel of her stripey tube socks.
She sprawled them across her bedroom floor,
tumbling from her clothes,
like illicit whispers, neglected without noise.
Things changed even more –
sometimes he wonders,
beyond this universe,
and into the next
– so when he buys lipstick he prefers the subtle
tones of dusky rose for winter days when he’s
working inside, reflecting on views, and
the ideas it brings him. And
bright fiesta reds,
when he wants to celebrate and explode
into joy, wants to feel like
the body he vehicles himself inside,
is not a cage,
but an instrument of transformation.



Lipstick isn’t always easy to remove
from mirrors.
Lipstick isn’t always easy to remove.
Lipstick isn’t always easy.
Lipstick isn’t
Lipstick isn’t always easy to remove
by licking.
Lipstick wounds.


What’s in a name?

Forest Cherry
Chariots of Fire
Hurt Red
Selma Pink
Imitation Lilac
English Patient Rose
The Best Exotic Marigold
(who'd wear that?)
Wall Street
(that's crimson to you)
(blood red)
(a lovely shade when you're seeking forgiveness)
Shakespeare in Love
(that's Gwyneth pink!)
Mystic River
(obvious, obviously)
Brokeback Mountain
(a dreamy dawn)
Scarlett Letter
O'Hara Pink
Don't Give A Damn
(That's red, not Rhett)


A Character Lament

It didn't matter what I felt.
Nothing would work.
Pale pink or berry lipstick;
Black dress, or perfect jeans;
It didn't matter.
No matter that
I wanted you to know me
Like I knew you,
Inside and out.
I always was,
And always would be lost.
Because you didn't exist;
Your life was written in
Words on a page.



Her name was B. Munkhbayar and she was in charge of the women's prison near Ulaanbaatar. It was not easy to photograph her. I had to obtain access through a labyrinth of connections, to find someone who knew someone, who knew someone else who could help. This is how it goes in Mongolia. A message passed on, from horse rider to sheep-herder to grandmother and back again. The only difference in the city is that it happens faster and with the help of technology. I was taken into the prison, miles from the nearest anything, and given a tour. When I finally met the lady in charge I was feeling somewhat melancholic. The prison was cold, stark and removed geographically and emotionally from the rest of the population. Although the walls inside were painted a vibrant turquoise, the atmosphere was subdued. In her office I introduced myself via the translator and explained the reasons why I wanted to take her portrait. An official woman in a stiff army uniform, she was keen to tell me that she had made significant improvements to the prison. The most memorable of which was installing a toilet block inside the building, so the women didn’t have to go outside, in -40 degrees, to relieve themselves. I could only imagine what the last lady in charge must have been like. I set up my equipment and prepared the composition. I knew I wanted the banner depicting Genghis Khan to be in the shot, above her head and the tidy desk in the foreground. She disappeared into the little room behind her office to prepare. When she stepped out, I smiled; she had applied bright magenta lipstick.