Skin Deep

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‘Beauty’s only skin deep,’ they say

words they somehow think will help

words fail

fall  like acid drops to litmus mind

absorbed, stored, burnt to memory

like scars.


Acute acne leaves its red and pitted trail

and mirrors tell no lies

I reflect upon a ruined face

each blemish magnified.


For many years

I shun the light

that sheds its brightness

onto every ugly pore

firmly plant the sun behind my back

seek solace in the sanctity of shade.


One day I meet a woman who shuns the world,

disliked by those who tried and failed,

she somehow chats to me,

forgetting rules of play

gets trapped before a rising sun

so I see through beyond her wrap round shades

to the horror of her waking life

the patched and cottered stitch-work of her flesh

the gaping slits that once were eyes

the broken dreams, the love that died

I hold my breath,

sustain normality as best I can

try not to hold a mirror

to what I feel inside.


Later I wonder what is best

to never have

or have and lose

and whether she was ever told

that beauty was skin deep.




DisfigurementSelf Image

◄ Chlamydia

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Dave Bradley

Thu 20th Oct 2011 00:24

Possibly relevant to the theme is the use of ceruse by Elizabethan women as facial makeup

It was poisonous and long-term use often caused disfigurement and - in extreme cases - even death.

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Rachel Bond

Wed 19th Oct 2011 19:55

dont worry a thing about it, you look fine x i genuinely can imagine the pain of having acne. i suffered enough over a few spots so i have an idea but just that. its something often overlooked as a serious problem/condition so im glad you wrote about it.

im going to look up john s poem :)

on second thoughts i realise that quite often a man from behind is sexier than any other way xx

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Wed 19th Oct 2011 19:39

Ha - I already know that you have a long standing relationship with Patrick Swayzee, Rachel...

It's a shame you missed John Togher's poem last Thursday, entitled 'You could never have a wet dream over a vague man...' - inspired by a comment made by a female acquaintance - it's probably a bit connected to our conversation!

You are probably right that people with oily skin age better - not all people with oily skin have horrendous acne though. Mine had/has a lot to do with a certain hormone intolerance. I still suffer from it in my 40s - though not as badly :)

Thanks for the feedback - I've had some fun thinking about it! x

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Rachel Bond

Wed 19th Oct 2011 17:03

yes your right, the poem does apply to everyone and is universal...just me going on a tangent there i can see how it would completely change the angle.

mm i like to think the feelings of attraction i have for ecertain people are exclusive to me and them and are all about a biochemical party going on...usually tho they have very definate good looks about them...

i dont think ive ever wanked over someone without a face :) it sounds interesting however. i have had fantasies that would include the person in them changing into all different people as it goes...i enjoyed that one. changing people with no concsious control...

sorry for turning your poem page into wank fantasy...actually i think that a compliment.

as for spots it has been said that the more you have as a teenager the better your skin and younger you look in later life :)

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Wed 19th Oct 2011 15:56

Perhaps I didn't phrase myself well. I meant that a poem referencing Jewish experiences would have become a poem about racial discrimination not an anti-semitic poem. I wanted to write a poem about disfigurement that could apply to anyone, regardless of race or colour.

Yes - to fancy someone you have to find them attractive - though not necessarily beautiful:-)

Does someone need a good personality to be wanked over? Of course not - in fact they don't always need a face...

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Rachel Bond

Wed 19th Oct 2011 15:43

i wouldnt have thought that a poem referencing jewish peoples experience of the holocoast anti - semitic although i understand your point and would require a lot of careful research to get it right. I am studying this era at uni so everything i read now has some reference :)

i think men have their own standards to live up to, being a sports hero or somehow loaded...i have a thing for slight abnormalities and certainly scars but im still fussy about what type. some scarring can only show the extent of pain and sometimes i feel it shudder through me if i see it on somebody else. its a recognition and empathy but at the same time the person has no choice to present it.

i grateful not to have been physically different from others but even being popular and pretty didnt stop ultimate feelings of isolation and differentness, depression despair and lonliness. sometimes i think its just there in the genes.

i think youre right, theres a poem in all of us on this theme.

Thanks for this one x

p.s somebody posted this on facebook:

looks arent everything, but you cant w*nk over a personality.

i have to admit to a level of agreement with this one...although looks are nothing without personality.

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Wed 19th Oct 2011 14:10

Thanks for your comments Steve, Lynn, Rachel.

Rachel,I think if I’d referenced Jews, the poem would have gone down the track of racial/cultural discrimination. My experience was of a world where I was outside the norm, not where I was an outcast or a victim. I’m not really making any high brow statements against magazines or the superficiality of society, though of course that doesn't help. Unfortunately I think that we are all programmed to love beauty and to see it in certain set parameters. Disfigurement can be hard to look at without embarrassment. You have to try hard not to look at the boil on the end of the nose, not to look at whatever it is that is outside of the accepted. There are obviously degrees of pain involved in coping with such conditions. I guess acne would be the mild end of the scale and burning/scarring/deformity the other. Any problem is much harder to cope with in youth though. As you get older, you realise that beauty isn’t everything and that personality and charisma can take you a lot further – they don’t wrinkle either :)

I suppose the purpose of the poem was just to explore those feelings and emotions; to understand that people can be psychologically changed by the way they look.

I think you are right to say that the problem is harder for women Rachel - at least we beat ourselves up more about it. Horrific to think what women have done to themselves over the centuries to enhance their beauty also. I'm thinking of all that binding of feet in China and those hideous corsets they were forced to wear in this country. There are probably a million poems you could write about this subject from a million angles...

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Rachel Bond

Wed 19th Oct 2011 13:19

think this insightful into the gut feelings of young people suffering to come to terms with changing bodies and ideas of beauty.

with reference to dave comments, for a moment i thought id missed an allusion to WW2 but realise Dave was referring to scarring of pilots. I would have been blown away had this poem referenced the treatment of Jews or fascist ideas of beauty and i suppose now it does as dave has provided a link.

The poem still very effectively captures that feeling of ugliness. I look back at my teenage photographs and i was flawless, but there was no convincing me then. Just what is ugliness? perfection seems to strip girls down to their bare bones and leave em bleeding.

great poem.

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Lynn Dye

Wed 19th Oct 2011 12:36

Powerful poem, Isobel, I think you have done a marvelous job on a sensitive theme. xx

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Tue 18th Oct 2011 21:38

Thanks for comments everyone. I did expect some criticism of this. I really struggled to get a poetic flow - probably because I was telling a story - one based on real life experience - so it inclined towards prose and it's hard to make poetry from prose.

The penulimate verse is important because I met that woman and what I described happened. Many people thought she was rude and ignorant. She had been disfigured in a car accident but I could totally understand why she behaved in the way she did. It would have been a defence mechanism to protect herself from having to deal with other people's reactions to her. If you consider yourself to be disfigured, 'the rules of play' are that you avoid talking to someone whilst the sun is on you - you position yourself so their vision is impaired instead...

I suppose what I am saying is that who we are can often be shaped by how we look. I'm a lot less paranoid than I used to be and a lot more confident. Age has some benefits. In this poem the emotions and feelings took over for me - which is why I posted an imperfect piece. I'm happy if people got something out of it anyway. x

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Ray Miller

Tue 18th Oct 2011 21:13

Took me a while to understand the penultimate verse. Now that I do I think it's the least effective verse, mostly due to these lines

One day I meet a woman who shuns the world,

disliked by those who tried and failed,

she somehow chats to me,

forgetting rules of play

It's like you've got to put in something before the crux of the poem but didn't take as much care.The rest I enjoyed very much!

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Dave Bradley

Tue 18th Oct 2011 20:14

I agree with the others. It's maybe not technically your best ever, but is so powerful that, as Cynthia says, little details don't matter. Reading, years ago, the inside stories of WW2 pilots with facial burns was unforgettable for me and this brought it back. There are few physical occurrences in life more devastating than damage to the face yet it is so rarely written about. Well done!

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Cate Greenlees

Tue 18th Oct 2011 20:04

Powerful and hard hitting in its intensity of emotion.
Cate xx

<Deleted User> (6315)

Tue 18th Oct 2011 16:19

Isobel...for me superb work, the transition works well really it lady :)

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Tue 18th Oct 2011 15:39

Like a tank - you write like an armoured tank plowing through emotions. The strength of feelings is so great that picky details are just irrelevant. An excellent theme.

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