Facial action coding at the supermarket

I turn to you [51] and tilt my head [56].
I raise my inner brow [1] (frontalis) and wait.
You can’t see if my [11] nasolabial deepener
(zygomaticus minor) or [12] lip corner puller
(zygomaticus major) are engaged – the difference
between good humour and disapproval
especially if my [15] lip corner depressor
(anguli oris) is in on the act, or god forbid
my [16] lower lip depressor (labii inferiori)
in which case I am actually pouting.
You hesitate while you try to read my face.
I get impatient at your lack of action
so I [23] tighten lip (orbicularis oris) – which
you can’t see either. Gee – I am offering
the spot in front of me in the checkout queue!
Where’s your gratitude? Correctly masked, we
lose 18 out of 28 possible combinatory cues
including [9] nose wrinkler, [14] the dimpler
[18] lip pucker, [21] neck tightener, a petulant [19]
show of the tongue and the drama of [26]
the jaw drop. Whether our faces are truly
vehicles of emotion or of communication
we need to get better at using our words.

Jacqui Malins

Note: The Facial Coding Action System (FACS) is a system of codes developed by Paul Ekman to describe nearly any anatomically possible facial expression by defining the movement of the individual facial muscles involved. FACS can be used by expert human coders, and is increasingly being incorporated into automated computer systems. The FACS Manual is over 500 pages in length.


Jacqui Malins is a performance poet and artist based in Canberra. She has featured at festivals and poetry events and created poetry shows “Words in Flight” and “Cavorting with Time” which resulted in the book of the same name (Recent Work Press 2018). She co-founded and organises Mother Tongue Multilingual Poetry events in Canberra.

© 2021