Rose Hunter – Poems from ‘Body Shell Girl’

Layered, creative, complicated: Dr Sally Breen launches Body Shell Girl by Rose Hunter


Portal, 1997


Look, for months I ignored those ads
you know the ones, maybe:

Masseuses wanted!
cash paid DAILY
no experience necessary

Classified section of the Toronto Star cast out over
peanut butter brown, hardwood floors
of that share apartment near St Clair and Bathurst
black ink on fingertips, red pen poised:
retail, waitressing, shelf stocking
I got some interviews
I got a job in a photo shop

lasted three weeks before I went to lunch
permanently, seriously
required to sit staring into space
when there was nothing to do
which was often
my ‘storybooks’ as the manager called them, banned

it wasn’t the first time I’d come across that
and been amazed
the others could do it!

I tried and went crazy

so back to the start, I got an interview
a paid internship at a documentary film company
a dream job. Hanging everything on getting that job

which was a sure way for the universe not
to give it to you
not that I believed in that sort of thinking
but really I did, and really I didn’t
yet I was flying high
with imagining it, dizzy with wanting
and wishing and waiting
for my housemate’s phone to ring

but then it did
and it was no

the room echoed, the finality snapping
but snap out of it, I’d try again

but for now I needed a job, any job
I got more interviews
but didn’t get those jobs either

demoralising, like my job searches always were
turns out a BA in English didn’t qualify me for much
and crumbling: the dream-wish that somehow
during this year’s working visa in Canada

I’d get that job I never could get in Australia
I’d keep that job I never could keep there
I’d find that home I never could there
and my life would finally start
but instead

rent loomed

and nothing in reserve
to qualify for the visa I’d borrowed money
got a printout of that bank statement
as my ‘proof of sufficient funds’
then gave the money back
I considered it a victimless crime

but oh no, what to do now
and so, one day
a neat steady circle

appeared around one of those ads
it was my hand that held the pen
I watched it join the curved edges of the line
then pause
a tiny red moon formed
which I smudged into a red comet

I stared at it. Picked up the phone.
Pressed two spirals of the cord
between my thumb and forefinger
allowed them to ease apart
pressed them together again
put the phone back. Ate a packet of Doritos
calculated this would take me approx.
half an hour to run off
kneeled in front of the toilet bowl
but no no, not now, do not

even let that idea in
God no no
I’d never call if I started on that
I picked up the phone again
my breath like skipping stones

maybe I could get in trouble for even calling?
No experience necessary to be a masseuse?
Well, it didn’t say massage therapist.
I’d heard about what they called ‘sex work’
in university, and how it was a job like any other
they said. Also a bit radical
and daring and even cool
at least in the groups I tried to fit in with
although none of us actually did it, that I knew of

but also I thought it was mostly illegal
so I didn’t think this could be that
if it was advertised in the main newspaper?

Maybe it was something borderline
like lingerie massaging? Did that exist?
Maybe I could do that? Maybe
you know, if I owned lingerie
and if anyone would pay to see me in it
when they saw me they’d laugh me out of the room

probably it was for models
but who knew who it was for
this was back in the days before I owned a computer
and before people googled everything, and life
in many ways, held more surprises

maybe it would be something I could do
it wouldn’t mean anything serious to me
like it might for normal people.

“Hello ugh. I’m calling about the ad yes ugh—”
something like that.
“I love your accent!” The voice on the other end
like campfires and marshmallows and you’re invited

well this was the warmest reaction I’d received
since I arrived in the country; OK maybe not quite
but it was the warmest reaction from anyone
I’d rung about a job
so I wrote down the address

an hour and a half later I stepped off the bus
way over on Steeles West
just when you thought there could be no city left
it kept on unfolding
an infinite white and brown chequerboard
the wind hurtled snow across the expanse
of the strip mall parking lot

flying white sparks that pin-pelted my calves
and the patch of ice that crumpled
a numbing, gloving of foot; I was

head down and heading
for the window with red neon
two rectangles outlined in more red neon, polka dots:


a red shadow thrown over Venetian blinds
one side scrunched, the other cycloning out
the tangled string with the loop at the end
a lifebuoy
mine? Or could be, or
call it off
then again nothing ventured
or go back to the bus stop

or deep breath and pull on that door handle


And what I imagined this place might be:
hazier, shrouded, and looking over shoulders
not crisp plastic maidenhair fern
and reception area like doctor-lawyer-dentist
except with cigarette smoke and hip hop
and platinum blonde, movie star woman
in three-quarter length, I thought blue suede

even if it wasn’t, and even if I didn’t know really
what blue suede was, really
except for the blue and the soft; a serenade

with envelope collar, four-dice buttons and fitted waist
and welcoming voice from the phone
greeting me as though I was everything she’d been
expecting (huh?); well I followed

her sparkling trail of precious metal glimmering
bracelets clinking and cinnamon wafts, and talk
of wow $$$
and what you had to do:

“Nude hand jobs basically,” she said, and shrugged
as though summarising the weather
I met her eyes and nodded, as if to say ah, as I
expected, while my stomach belly-
flopped; how

could you do that
and to any random dude who wandered in? The idea
twisted my flopped stomach
wrung it out like laundry, how gross
and embarrassing; how

did those words flow out of her mouth, like nothing?
I’d never even done a hand job before
not in the beginning-to-end sense
not that I’d admit that to her or anyone
my freakish inexperience
for the ripe old age of twenty-five

but even if I knew how, how could you do that
and the naked part too
the lingerie massaging idea was not naked
big difference; clearly I couldn’t do any of this

so why was this Blue Suede
gazing at me with her disco and glitter-lidded eyes
as though seriously entertaining me for this role?

I’d have to meet the boss, she told me
to be hired for real—she’d be here at the shift change
“But in the meantime we need someone, you can
Like when, like right

now? Like
now now?

Maybe I should consider it. It was one man at a time
at least. I’d seen the ads for stripping too
I had not yet put a red circle around one of them.
All those eyes!
There was no way

but just one set of them, that was just one more
than zero, you could see it that way; also

with one man you’d know where he was looking
(this seemed important)
no stage fright and no dancing
and no one else but you and he to witness it
low light and a wig maybe
you could do it like incognito almost
OK but could I

do it? What if I did it wrong, or froze
or turned vermillion, or hyperventilated, or cried
or ran out of the room, or all of the above

well and what if? Humiliation
in front of one man I’d never see again
and back where I am right now. What would I lose?
Here’s what I might gain:

$500 to $800 a night!
OK so she was talking about what she was making
and I was no Blue Suede

so subtract a third, or a half
to take that into account (might it work this way?)
still more than enough

for rent, food, transport, boots that didn’t leak
a warm coat, and job interview clothes
maybe even like that. Maybe I’d have that internship
if I dressed better? Maybe I’d be someone else
if I dressed better … Look
wasn’t like I was gonna do it for a decade or anything.

Blue suede
with darker blue lining, like deeper
deeper, I caught the glimpse of sapphire
my blue yellow brick road


From Part II:
More than the Strangest Stranger to Me

………………………………….—But who was this ‘I’? Was I
……………………………………..Cartesian? (Did I think I could split ’em?)
……………………………………..Hell yes

OK Miranda does have a body but she is not inside it
she is somewhere else

like in the umbrella holder
or neatly stacked shoe rack
by the front door
there is a spot
next to the melting mud slush or the hat that has

fallen; she is somewhere


From Part III:
Why We Are Girls

……………………………….—(Or ladies, sometimes, but everyone
…………………………………..knows that’s a bit

A girl is a wisp, a potato chip
barely there, a girl drifts
by the side of the road until you show up
then she’s happy to do whatever you want
more than that: she’s waiting
for the opportunity, any time, any place
she’s a good-time girl

(your good time that means)
and when with you, the others don’t exist.
You don’t have to love a girl although
you can pretend to if it gets you off
since that’s the most important thing, always
and you can pretend so well
you believe it; you can

do whatever with whoever but the girl
only does it with you, this is true
even when it’s obviously not true
see above re pretending; you

don’t need to sell this fantasy to a girl
she’s already been sold it
and is ready to reflect it back to you
(which doesn’t mean she’s bought it
or it could mean she has, too). Cash
or cash equivalents are involved
but you can pretend she’d do it for free

if she could (you even say that
and she smiles and laughs
so you know it’s true)

“You like that don’t you,” you
do not need to put a question mark
on that. A girl always says yes
or smiles and laughs, which is the same
as a yes, or squirms and looks like she
doesn’t want to be there; that
just means she’s shy (bonus for
you!) and is a yes too. A girl is

younger than you no matter what age she is
although obviously it’s better
if she’s actually younger. You
are the boss even as you like to
tell her she is (many of you
preferred it that way); tell her about how

empowering all this is for her
she loves it. A girl has no vital
functions you need to know about.
She’s a roadside attraction with heart-shaped
shades that reflect your image
sucking on a red lollypop or awkward
urchin type with acne and hand-me-downs
plain, tattered, or refreshingly
unadorned, yeah. A girl

naturally just is whatever you want
her to be; amazing, right? Even when
she’s not, for those who like
a bit of a challenge, or the troubled
ones, the ones who need
rescuing (to all the Captain Save-a-Hoes)
or the ones who won’t be rescued
the hopeless cases

they’re so romantic, dead
by the side of the road
you can faux mourn them.


Rose Hunter’s most recent book, Body Shell Girl (Spinifex Press, May/June 2022), is a memoir in verse that tells the story of her first two years in the sex industry. She is also the author of five other books of poetry, including glass (Five Islands Press, 2017). She has been published widely in journals in Australia, the USA, and Canada, and has been awarded an Australia Council for the Arts grant. Rose was born in Australia and lived in Canada for ten years, then Mexico for ten more. She is currently on the Gold Coast, where she is enrolled in a PhD in Creative Writing at Griffith University. More about her can be found at

Body Shell Girl is available from

Layered, creative, complicated: Dr Sally Breen launches Body Shell Girl by Rose Hunter



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