The line of my upper lip is interrupted on the right side by a slight thickening where my grandparent's Dalmation Essie bit me one of the times she didn't recognize me. Something flared up in her damaged brain now and then, making everything strange. I pictured the room turning white. I was a black, ominous signature, something to flee or bite. I could tell it was coming, watching her strange sidle. I ran to the bathroom afterwards, to see the blood run down into my teeth.

Joining my upper lip to my nose is a narrow channel between two well-defined banks. I can fit the tip of my baby finger into the soft ditch. I was proud to point out this feature to my mother, who had never noticed its existence.

The little hanging swell at the center of the top lip is so sensitive that I sometimes, when I permit myself, bite and suck and pull at it so devotedly that a bit of skin peels up and dangles loose in my mouth.

My lower lip is pierced by a labret with a flat head, which looks like a small nail through my lip. The hole is slightly to the right of what my nerves tell me is the center of my lip, and this fraction of a millimeter is enough to make me slightly edgy when I think about it. I pry and tease incessantly at the little shaft, pulling it inward by catching my tongue under the back, bending it over against my lip, and then rotating the shaft around its insertion point, like the hand of a clock. Or I catch the little metal disk between my teeth and bite at it carefully.

After I had my teeth drilled and had to have a shot of Novocaine, I studied my lips. They were much thicker than I thought, smooth rubbery slabs that easily got in the way of my teeth. Once I asked for a consolatory treat after a trip to the dentist, and got a strawberry milkshake. I stabbed myself in the cheek with my straw several times until, with the help of the car mirror, I managed to guide the straw into my mouth. A little later, I felt a funny tickle at my collar, and looked in the mirror. A big dribble of pink had flowed all the way down my numb chin and was running down my neck. My lips, I figured out, only worked because they were conscious. Without feeling, I would leak continuously. (A principle that might hold true, I thought uncomfortably, for other parts of my body as well.)

Things I can do with my lips: I can suck in the corners of my mouth, hard, so the top and bottom lips make two soft beaks, turning my whole head into the body of a fat fish, like my mother used to do, when I sat on her lap in the rocking chair. Only she could slowly open and close the tiny parrot-fish lips, making her eyes big, while my cheeks always pop out of the clamp of my jaws, with a little squeak.