“Peeling the Skin”

A Poem by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

June 12, 2020  By Carolyn Jess-Cooke

They’d try to find the hem first,
the beginning of that lace-fine calyx that
sometimes ran deliciously
from shoulder to waist in a continuum
of cells shucked by too-long
in the burning glare. No one thought to rub
in sun cream, it seems, for each summer
my lunar Irish epidermis crisped
from salmon to magenta before flaking
off great silvery coats and blankets,
milky curtains, pearl bodices.
The confetti of my childhood lies in corners
of Connemara, the sands of
Donegal, bearing traces of fingers
that picked me to riddance. I’d hear
the sellotape-tear
of strips they’d peel from my back
and I felt like something being primed for the spit,
or dressed for the rite. Sometimes
they’d shear
what wasn’t ready for shearing, and blood would globe
at the new rind that knitted under the husk.
I think it was this small breach, this
being pared in pain
for others’ pleasure, that taught me where DNA ended and

begin, and begin, and begin.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an author and poet. Her prizes for writing include a Northern Writers Award, an Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie prize, and she has twice received a K Blundell award from the Society of Authors. She holds a PhD in literature and film, and is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, where she researches the impact of motherhood on women’s writing and inclusive approaches to literature.

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