The Scarlet Mark

Though I may close my carmine lashes
to forget, you will keep reminding me
that I was born aflame and lean to burning. …

About the poem

This poem appeared in issue 22 of the online journal Three Drops from a Cauldron.

The title for the poem came from an episode of a Radio 4 programme, The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, about the science and history behind red hair.  I thought it was a fascinating way to describe something which in some ways is quite arbitrary but has been given social significance.

In particular, I thought there was struck by the implied violence that red hair is a mark of some sort, a form of branding. When taken in tandem with the associations between women with red hair and witchcraft and all the persecution and torture that has historically implied, I thought this was an area worth pursuing.

On the surface, the poem is a description of a woman with red hair, but it is made sinister and given extra significance by extending that implied violence within the language. For example, the idea that the speaker may "lean to burning" is both a reference to the fact that as soon as the sun appears I have to apply a lot of factor 50 to avoid burning, and the tendency for red haired women to be associated with witches and thus bore that risk of being burned at the stake.

Language carries a lot of significance that we don't always acknowledge; if we talk about anything in terms that imply violence, or confrontation, it has an impact on how we communicate. I thought it was interesting to explore that idea and to take something as familiar as my own reflection and make it sinister and unsettling.