Ghost Girls

We’d wear our best to the factory bench to catch
some of the luminescence in their folds, painted nails
and teeth with the stuff Mrs Curie had kept phials
of in her pockets like tubes of mints. Became known
as the ghost girls for the soft, green light we emitted.

Looking back we guessed the men with dollars in their eyes,
must have brushed away rumours of the paint’s darker side,
as they watched us bring to a point the tips of bristles with our lips,
to more accurately form numbers on the dials.

Claimed we were wanton women with a disease too shameful
to name, when ulcers bubbled up, jaws eaten to the white of bone.
Our dangerous selves, developing like photographs in the isolation
ward at night, condemned to rest glowing under lead lids, when they
should still have been radiant with life.