‘We Prayed for a Man Without a Beard’ by Judy Brown

We Prayed for a Man Without a Beard

‘My Tooth broke today. They will soon be gone. Let that pass I shall be beloved—I want no more’ (Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journal, Monday 31st June 1802)

As the hygienist scrimshaws round my gum
I stretch my small mouth wide as horror.
She learned on a metal skull with white teeth
painted with a black stain to be scraped clean.

When she grew exact, they covered the head
with a rubber sheath – lipped, eared, with hair –
which hugged the mouth’s airy cathedral,
its cloisters full of the breath of winter.

For months a hand scaler was all she held.
In the exams they were tested on people:
We prayed for a person with a big mouth
and small teeth; we prayed for a man without a beard.

I feel my face grow tight, and sickening
as a mask on my skull’s frame. After death
rot will strip it down to show the teeth I held,
coddled by the hygienist’s intricate decades.

Then the cool breezes off the fells will blow
over the roots. My phantom head smiles:
free at last of the pornography of skin.
I pray for a man to kiss me, while I live.
(published in One of the Summer People (Wordsworth Trust, 2013)
Judy Brown‘s first collection Loudness (Seren) was shortlisted for both the Forward and Fenton Aldeburgh best first collection prizes. Her second collection, Crowd Sensations will be published by Seren in early 2016. Judy was Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust during 2013, and a Gladstone’s Library Writer-in-Residence in 2014. She has won the Manchester Poetry Prize and the Poetry London competition, and her first pamphlet was a winner in the Templar Pamphlet Competition. Judy’s work has been anthologised in Hallelujah for 50ft Women (2015) and Identity Parade (2010), both from Bloodaxe. She lives in a churchyard in Derbyshire, and gives Poetry Surgeries in Derby for the Poetry Society.