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Red Paint

leia k. bradley / poem + essay

Yes I Still Want to Bake You Pie Even Though You Have a New Obsession with the Abacus

You say that in long films, art time is slowed down to the point of estrangement,

well, I am saying disparate realities end up tangled together

as any rope when you need most to hang yourself. Well, 

get on with it. Perform those calculations by sliding 

your counting beads along my rods and grooves. 

Careful where you point that thing, 

someone might end up coming

so hard they get a headache. 

Yes, we know the hours

melt like butter on 

a Chevy hood

when you’re

this in love.

Take me 

out back 

to smell the

tomato leaves

like things so ancient and ripe

really could come from this earth

and be free of morality. Just be delicious 

and red. You don’t want to be politicized, I 

get it. You want to be your own Tiresias, & I will 

build cairn after cairn in your honor. How do snakes 

mate, anyway? Change your gender every hour, go for it, 

I’ll sew your skirts into pants and tear them apart again, like 

cloth and thread are all it takes to feel wrapped up in your truth. 

My sweet roly poly, my misunderstood garden snake, my little brown recluse,

my beet-red beating heart. I’m going to buy us pruning shears and figs and we will 

lie naked between the basil and radishes and when I say yes, that cloud does look like

two antelopes frolicking! You will say let’s plant a new garden entirely from 25ȼ seed packets 

and also a life together. It might take a little more than that. But I got a shovel and a hoe mind 

to tell you forever is the shape of a monster rosemary bush taking over the left side of the house, eating 

it up slow, whole. We will not need a shovel, just an acceleration of grass stains to knees, and pies to mouth.

Respectfully, Janet, You've Got To Stop Sending Me Letters

Respectfully, Janet, there is no fork in the road, only a long string of angel hair, aglio olio, that I am pretending is really your hair.  I’d like to swallow tangled masses of your chaffed waves. Hair is dead, you told me once, Janet, but so am I. I’m at the best Italian restaurant on Mulberry and all I can think about is the cornflower blue of that Vermeer in the Met earlier—remembering your little painted flowers on the kitchen table of our old cabin, seeing tiny petals budding in my skin. 

My server asks me if I’m waiting for anyone else.  I shake my head, order another glass of sancerre, Sinatra like a smooth gouge to my eardrum. I don’t eat the garlic bread. I’ve got a hunger not for food but for something candied and growling, a pitbull in blonde.

But you’re somewhere else, Janet, you’re not gleaming like a honeyed Bartlett pear across from this white tablecloth. You’re reminding me—your heartwrench of a ghost is, anyway—that the fork in my hand is awfully pretty as a bad thought: jamming the dull tines into the back of my hand seeing if I’m strong enough 

to force the silver clean through to palm.  But no, the cloth napkins only look like I’ve used them to stop our bleeding. It’s the olive oil kissing off my lipstick, like you used to, your pink gloss smearing my matte crimson  like a Valentine of Van Gogh. 

But you’ve left me, haven't you, Janet, for some boy your mother liked, that your father clapped on the back, even though I know more about the Raiders and the Rams than he does. Don’t you remember the windows down, listening to the Eagles, no not the team—fuck the Eagles—we were takin’ it easy in my ‘61 Chevy bench seater. We were putting blankets in the bed of the back, & you said me and the stars were the only things you ever wanted to touch your skin. Laying in the dark that moonlit May, we could have been posing for a painting by that painter you loved—Artemisia, wasn’t it—we were goddamn beautiful. And remember that July when you said you liked when I got a little butch and drank beer and put my hand in the back pocket of your bluejeans, liked when I put our song on the jukebox and spun you ‘round and dipped you, 2 AM and the bartender was drinking with his best friend, himself, and left us alone in our slow dance, sanguine, cheek to cheek and Janet I only drank beer for months, hoped you’d see my red lips around the bottle, see my red nails around the cold neck and remember how all that red used to make you swan hot and ragged like blowing glass. 

Will I ever see you standing in my doorway, Janet or will you really up and marry him just to make your mama happy, make you feel like God’ll still let you into heaven? Let me tell you, that big man up there ain’t as forgiving as you might think. He heard you howling for me in the back of that truck, on the blanket I put down by the creek, on the roof of our cabin, on the kitchen table you re-painted sage green. He’s got holes in his hands that make him jealous of the holes we got. Let me ask you, Janet, why’d you have to go and make our good love feel so shameful? The bible doesn't say a goddamn thing about that feeling in your middle where everything fades away and it’s just your gold hair in the gold light—remember when we saw that family of deer real, real close out back? Remember we held our breath and you gripped my hand so tight I thought you might break it, and I thought maybe you’d squeeze my hand like that one day in some hospital in a big city with good doctors, maybe we’d have a little golden baby bird of our own someday, Janet, I thought you said you wanted a life with my name on it, too, how we’d combine our last names, how you didn’t want a diamond you wanted a sapphire in a gold band, and I wear it around my neck just in case your long white dress ever blows in the breeze back to my door. I had to move to the city, Janet, had to get away from girls more in love with Jesus and jocks than with me—so now I’m here, spinning my fork in some Italian restaurant alone, watching romance at every table and the waiter asks Another glass? and I say I’ll just take the bottle, and he can see you in my eyes, I bet he can, Janet, he nods like he gets it. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t worry that you have my new address, but I worry about that. Does your new man worry too?  Far from the cabin on the outskirts we painted that summer, like all the wildflowers outside. Janet, baby, if you’re listening, I’m at the Chelsea Hotel, number six twenty two—

Remember I brought your mama hydrangeas, but she shooed me off the porch, told me Satan in a Sunday hat is still Satan, and for the first time you couldn’t meet my eyes and I should’ve known then you weren’t a girl who could taste a forever with me in mind.  So, Janet, I don’t jam the fork in my palm I just pour another glass, tip too much, walk out into the loud cloy of the city, kiss some auburn-haired mimic who only wants my hands, which is good because they’re all I got left to give. 

Don’t you remember when I told you hell ain’t real, but if it is, I’d find you, so it’d be our own hot little heaven? I call her your name in the bathroom stall by accident and she smacks me across the face and

I’m back, back out onto the city streets. I’m messed up, Janet, without you, throwing up wine and whiskey in some alley with the rats, that acrid yellow narrowly missing my stilettos. Some jawline the size of the Louisiana border stops, asks if I’m okay buys me a slice and compliments my velvet dress, my leather and pearls, a real city slick butch who says, you need someone to take care of you, for once, looks like.

And she’s right, and for the first time in the first light of dawn, her glint of a grin like a trigger, mouth to thighs. And I don’t think about you, not for one minute. 

See, Janet, she doesn’t like when I drink beer, she likes when I drink wine, she asks me to dance in any and every bar. She wants me. I’m enough, no room left for Jesus.  That’s love, Janet, the kind of feeling that devours you sweet and clean.  She’s saving me, Janet, from being sick with you. She likes my bluebell mouth and my lace and silk and I love her hand in my back pocket.  Love her short hair shorter on the sides and long on top and how she sings me Elvis when I make her buckwheat pancakes on Saturdays, how she can fix anything with an engine, how she howls to the Stones in the shower, shampoos my hair in the bath, like I’ve never felt love til it sudsed up my scalp on a stupid Tuesday. 

I love waking up to her, Janet.  I’m good, Janet, real good, and I hope he makes you happy. But between you and me, we both know happiness is woman on woman, is Monday morning and making love and pancakes, happiness: her voice calling me angel baby, her gin-clean laugh my summer-in-the-city sky.

I know you’re getting married to him on Sunday. Respectfully, Janet, don’t write me anymore. Respectfully, Janet, this is a final goodbye.


Leia K. Bradley (they/she) is a backwoods Georgia born, Brooklyn based lesbian writer, performance artist, and an MFA Poetry candidate at Columbia University, where she also teaches Writing in Gender & Sexuality. She has work out now or forthcoming in POETRY, Variant, Aurore, Ghost City, JMWW, trampset, Peach Fuzz, Full House Literary, Cutbow Quarterly, West Trade Review, Black Warrior Review, and more, with her poem "Settle(d)" chosen as the Editor's Choice Best Overall pick for Penumbra Magazine's 2022 Pride issue. She was nominated by Miniskirt Magazine for a Pushcart Prize for her lesbian werewolf short story "Moon Pie," and is the 2023 Featured Author of Anodyne Magazine. After climbing out from the coffin of her first divorce, she is accepting love and lust letters through her twitter @LeiaKBradley or instagram @MadameMort.


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