Before the Blue of Devastation

From Georgia by way of Brooklyn, three poems weaving pleasure, wholeness, and spirits.


I’m laying in the lake alone
gin-clean as any alcoholic housewife.
Divorcée, drunk
and naked in the local pond. Watch out! Watch,
I can float on my back for hours.
The frogs and the crickets never mind me; the South accepts me back,
reminds I’m of this green that birthed me, how my bones
still tendril the same ruthless wild.
I feel like a selkie who stole her own skin, and found a way
to give it back to herself,
but now the old dermal feels unknown.
I hide beneath my watery outline, look up
at the odd transparent lining of a body, some wriggling thing, swimming,
floating on the top
of something deeper than anyone wants to know.

My mother, she tends me like a bad gardener,
hacking at my roots. I let her.
Marriage ate her slow and whole, too.
We trade off being each other’s lighthouses, use paper plates
to never wash the dishes. Eat grapes and chips and more chips like we’re still young
and don’t know how to care.
She is trying to rip me from the cement like an aster, yank me back into myself.
But what I really need, like a hydrangea,
is to take to different dirt, change my colors,
remember who I was before the blue of devastation
matched the marks on my neck—I am mutating
into something that can take memory fast in the fist
and milk it clean.

These dolloping days, I am overeating;
smooth, plush belly
pouting, filling my aches with crunches of salted pleasure,
gulping and chewing my way back to a wholeness
where my body is free of gapes and
the green of the landscape
opens me up like a palm.
I don’t want anyone to touch me except the water’s uncaring hands.

The oaks let me oscillate
between ripe as wound and iron-sewn,
bitter-skinned. Silver as a shield. Swimming again, glimmering
in the Georgia sun, trying
to make up with myself. I will eat, shout, swim my way
to forgiving myself, or something that lets go, swallows down easy enough
to make a whole thing out of me again.
Without guilt, there is so much room for different agonies.
Without marriage, however, there is so much more room for a life.



I fear I am losing myself in the city, I fear my accent will be
yanked out of me with the yankees and I fear that my heart
will no longer hum evergreen as a Georgia forest. I can still hear that
owl in the magnolia tree again, waning its wants
gobbling up the small squibbling things below
hiding, waiting in the great pale blooms. I wanted so much
to capture it, make it my familiar, whisper it all my secrets, but instead
I became nocturnal, grew feathers, eyes yellow with citylights. I miss
home: the church parking lot saunter, the wild turkeys up the drive, muscadine
jam, worshiping the air conditioner
like any other humming god, quick to coat its psalms with freon and
the furtive sweat of youth. I wish they had let me stay barefoot, hair
unbrushed, eating honeysuckle in the woods in denim overalls, making potions
in the dirt with the juniper and lakewater. I wish I had been allowed
to stay young even when I did, yes,
feel so much older, I wish
there had been enough time for a mother to take my hands and say
there are still
so many ways to be free. Sometimes the owls know more
about dreams because the moonlight wakes them, drives them. Sometimes
the thing howling in the trees is not an owl at all,
but a girl, softly wallowing, feral and wild
and wanting,
to stay that way.



After Louise Glück

Mama grieves today,
and Mama never grieves.

There is something, yes, about a doorstep
never to be crossed again by a pink pair of socks singing doo-wop,
a striped lapel quick to dance and faster still
to crumble at the End Times. Every witch doctor and faith healer in town—
not even they can cure the blues.

How does one take a daughter’s heart,
string it up on a clothesline, see the moonlight hit it
so the dripping viscera looks holy?

Everything sacred reigns inadequate. Every doorjamb
is a greased hinge, is an afterlife, is a thin veil
that has never been passed through by anything
but a woman desperately cold and wanting out.

God was never the thing to dig me out. It was wrinkled hands
shoving a trowel in my hands, saying, Put your bad thoughts in the dirt
and watch the rosemary grow out of it. You will, too.

How is it a year of Sundays
could never teach me survival as beautiful, as clean
as that? Dirt under the nails. Barefoot in the great beyond,
I am still growing rosemary by the door for luck. I am still
honeyed apples and gingerbread, wanting,
wanting outstretched arms that wouldn’t just graze
but yank

every end of the world, every corner, tie it up on a stick
and hop on a good road to gettin’ there
before I get got.

Two white nightgowns. Barefoot. Backwoods.
The sound of silverware in the breeze, tinkling like
moonlight had a sound, silver
hanging from the magnolia tree
to keep the spirits out.
I am cutting all of them down.
Come back, Mama says to the tree
and all the rest of this blue everywhere. Come back better.


About the author

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 published or forthcoming inPoetry, Aurore, Ghost City, Peach Fuzz, West Trade 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 byMiniskirt Magazinefor a Pushcart Prize for her lesbian werewolf short story “Moon Pie,” and is the 2023 Featured Author ofAnodyne magazine. 

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