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Bathers with a Turtle

ISSUE:  Summer 2021


Three nudes crudely drawn. One crouching, 
back turned, right hand feeding the turtle 

of the painting’s title; another sitting, as if in a chair,
head bowed, eyes downcast; and a central 

figure, standing, chewing her hands. My hands
want to take hers—wet with spit, nicked red

and bitten—into mine. It’s her ugliness I can’t 
resist. Or her misery. My gaze keeps returning

to her haunted face: How she is consumed 
with herself; how she consumes herself.

It’s the kind of dream, every dream, when all
the characters are you. There’s something 

I’ve been gnawing: some fleshy part of myself. 
It smells like dirt puddled with rain. It boasts 

cartilage and fingers. It drifts to my mouth
like a cigarette, a habit. My father is an addict.

He crouches inside me, back turned—it’s been
years since I’ve seen the scars on his cheeks. 

He feeds the part of me armored with a carapace.
As a girl, I savored beer he sipped

from a sweaty bottle. I drank what he offered—
not caring if it reminded me of piss—

the glass rim warm with breath. I tasted 
what would sour. When I was an infant, 

my father softened grapes with his teeth. I ate 
from his fingers. Still, though they fed me,

I do not want to hold them. The seated figure tucks 
her hands between her thighs. I want to kiss 

her knuckles. What I could have been, what I could 
become, and what I am squat—naked 

and shivering—in the air-conditioned gallery. 
All the green and blue mixed to make my flesh. 

The guard signals for my attention: Move back, 
Miss, behind the line, you’re too close to the painting.



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