Dressing yourself, you have found leopard-print tights
can be made to match a tiger-print top and ruby slippers,
absolutely flat; that you like yourself in denim, only if
it has spurious stitching on the sleeves and something odd
about the collar, preferably something neon pink; that
you prefer to buy rings, laces and chains yourself, others
tending to base their choice on numbers of digits, price.
Down the road is your boyfriend, not three hundred yards.
You know that if you leave at 3 the navvies on the tarmac
will be packing up and looking for something live; that
if you wait until 5 all the sad fathers of all the angry kids
will be bringing out the dead – racks of lamb, chickens
separated from their feet – and looking for something,
anything with warm blood; that if you leave at 8
the car headlights coming on will shine right through you,
making your legs appear white, your shoulders wide,
your hair a buzzing halo of red – scarlet, actually, because
such a colour can be made to work, any time, any place,
in the right hands – and the drivers, all of them as if
processing, looking. So: some choices. It’s a short walk
but you have all sorts of jewels to hang from yourself
and you do it slow without stupid, almost a dance.
It’s only when you get to his house that his door opens
and the dark hurries in behind you, before you’ve even
seen it. Something he once told you: that a survey of
700,000 plus proved the no.1 point of male affection is
for the waist-hip ratio. That, he said, is science.
Just in case, you wear a plastic belt, though because you
prefer the theory of colours, display, you wear it amber,
because amber means Stop – No, Get Ready To Go.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.
This is a delightfully casual-seeming poem, where a sense of humour is nicely pricked by intimations of unease. Fulcher creates a cameo of womanliness in a girl who has a vivid fashion sense, her choice of colours and style reflected back at her by a world which makes women – especially those who wear bright and attention-seeking clothes – uncomfortable. What makes ‘Precious’ such a gem is the way it draws a double picture: of the girlfriend painstakingly preparing to visit her boyfriend, and calibrating every piece of clothing and jewellery; and of the city’s men folk, whose gauntlet she must run. This breed hunts like a pack of lonely, coarse and predatory individuals. Anticipating their unwanted attentions means that preparing to go out in public for a woman can feel like donning a suit of armour.
So often in thinking ourselves Subject we find we are Object. The waist-hip trivia in ‘Precious’, for example, was one of those sudden nuggets of fact published under a glossy ‘It’s Not Your Fault’ headline in some women’s magazine. Or perhaps it was in the back section of New Scientist; a pattern seen in numbers, examined, and revealed as a piece of lurking primitivism.
We spend lifetimes trying to reconcile such dichotomies of society and nature, whether in poetry or in conversation, while daily duty is to navigate this world, this hyper-reality of constant arousal: five senses stimulated at once or in quick succession. The eyes that meet ours along the roads of our journeys: what do they see? For all our intelligence, our capacity for reason and premeditation, something lacks; we notice less the primary colours of human instinct than we do the shades of modern culture. The girl in ‘Precious’ is my neighbour’s teenage daughter and has more talent for pleasure-giving artifice than anyone I know, using scientific foresight and precision. But in terms of biology, is she the scientist or the experiment?
In her defence, I have put a lot of words in the poor girl’s head. The poem was written nearly two years ago and she still takes the same few-minute walk every afternoon. Sometimes her boyfriend walks back with her. She is regularly allowed to dust his clavicle with lilac glitter, and dress him up in fairy wings.