Tess Jolly




The Make-up Artist


I’m curious about the make-up artist
living in Cumbria, whose website claims
she grasped her mother’s lipstick before
she could hold a pen and scrawled our name
in coral across the bathroom mirror.
In the first dream we meet in a bar.
Her burgundy nails gleam in the candlelight
as she clinks her flute to my flute. She seals
her offer to fashion me into anything I want
with a crimson kiss, so the next day
I invent a fancy-dress party and book
an appointment. She wipes my face like someone
patiently cleaning chalk from slate
then arranges her palette and lifts her brush
to compose. Walking back up the high street
I notice a figure hurrying alongside me
in all the windows: she stops when I stop,
moves when I move, but when I turn
for the station she heads for the hills and the sky
blushes in the lake’s clear glass.






Beyond the body-builders with tattoos strained
round steaming flanks pumping bells
or pawing at the ground and flexing,

past cheerleaders who spin through the canopy
in hotpants jewelled with Jenna or Ruby
flaunting plumes from their ponytails,

through the other gymnasts who flick
and swim in sequinned leotards
through hoops and rings like tropical fish –

there’s you my love, the only boy, dressed
as you insisted in your football kit,
approaching balance with your arms outstretched,

your chin held high and one leg on the beam
like a flamingo poised on tidal flats,
all your bright impulses, the inner zoology

of hopes and fears, riddles I can’t explain,
distilled to a single wick, not curbed by gravity
but dancing with it – the living ardent flame.


Tess Jolly works as a library assistant and facilitates creative writing workshops for children and young people. She has been widely published in UK magazines and has been commended or placed in several competitions, including the Mslexia Poetry Competition and the Stanza Poetry Competition. In 2015 she won the Hamish Canham Prize and was last year’s winner of the Anne Born Prize, both run by the Poetry Society. She has published two pamphlets: Touchpapers with Eyewear Publishing and Thus the Blue Hour Comes with Indigo Dreams. 

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