Poppies

Ruth Fainlight

A bed of them
looks like a dressing-room
backstage after the chorus changed costume,

ruffled heaps
of papery orange petticoats
and slick pink satin bodices.

Every petal’s base
is marked with the same
confident black smear as a painted eyelid

and the frill
of jostling purple anthers
sifts a powdery kohl that clogs the lashes

shading watchful glances
from dilating pupils, as though
all the dancers swallowed belladonna.

The pleated velvet star
at the centre of each flower
is the top of a box filled with jet beads.

The hard green buds
are their husbands’ fists, the silver-
bristled leaves are their admirers’ beards.