The Painted Lady

A brief note on the text:

The Painted Lady is a bar in Toronto in the Dundas-Ossington area. The poem (below) however, uses the location as a starting point to muse on the concept of spaces. How do spaces become contaminated with memory and association? What spaces do we carry with us? Anais Nin once wrote, “we see spaces as we see ourselves”; in light of Nin’s comment, The Painted Lady, then, becomes a metaphor for an headspace I occupied for many months while trying to recover from a year’s worth of failed romances—all of which can be attributed not to a failure of the heart, but my own personal failure to be myself as opposed to being The Painted Lady.

The final stanza of the poem groups the piece with my first book of poetry, Autobiography of Skin (publishing date TBA) because the poem tells a story not necessarily of the heart, but of the body. The piece demonstrates how, despite our desire for a put-together exterior, our body gives us away. We share a cultural anecdote about being in bed with someone and accidentally uttering another person’s name: I am interested in this slip-of-the-tongue moment as evidence of the speaking body, the out-of-control body, the overflowing body. Just as the speaker’s memories of a certain lost lover spill over onto her “personal” moments —her night out with her girlfriends—her insides also spill over, fracturing the illusion of her airbrushed exterior. The speaker’s body, then, becomes a space of overflow, a space unable to contain or regulate the facade of the Painted Lady.

Though I wrote the piece with a specific muta-persona (implied listener) in mind, he has come to represent for me a series of “lost ghosts,” those could-have-been relationships that never came to fruition because of the emotional place I occupied.

My failure to be the Painted Lady contributes to my success as Lady Medusa. I’ve sat with this piece for months now, but I’m finally  ready to archive this experience, to set it down, and let it go. Happy reading!


Leave all your loving, all your loving behind,

you can’t carry it with you if you want to survive

– Florence + the Machine

Sucking back the eternal insignificance

we strolled into night city

locked arms and giddy,

spray painted and witty,

high and heeled and waiting

but every cocked hat was you.

Clickety- clack on the pavement we passed

that ever unchanging laundromat

where love’s lost ghosts linger:

cut out remnant memories

of lust’s leftovers:

an extinguished semblance

of a mouth-in-mouth version

of you and me

my girlfriends take me places

to get my mind off you

to get me over you.

But you’re under me

over me





you reside

in /side/ me.

in line and waiting,

small purses strapped

under naked shoulders—

we’d be cold

but not wanting

to hang our coats with strangers

Don’t they know you’ll find me?

even here, in this strange bar

my feet already hurting

my elbows wet with liquor

Across the room

a frame on the wall:

inside, a red elephant winks


like that time you took me to the zoo

to ride one

because you knew

I’ve always dreamed of


like how after

we wandered wondering

arm in arm like cotton candy

how elephants think and talk and make love

memorabilia from love’s lost ghosts

a souvenir of two souls twisted

when we lay down the world

and our bodies wrote the words

Note to self: forget elephants

You’re the elephant in the room

the unspoken, the unsaid

the unsmoked and the unread

the unwritten longing

across empty pages.

You’re everywhere and nowhere

perpetually stuck

in the never-ending corner

of my pitted blinded eye

And I’ve scoured this city

to the top of each tower,

to the back of every bar—

and every cocked hat was you.

so i’ve sit and i’ve sighed

i’ve starved and I’ve cried

i’ve packed you up and tried

To Put You Away.

My heart in a safe.


the sea-salted taste

my tongue acquired

when it read you like braille


each crescent line in your face

deleting each dimple like data

My heart in a safe—




(When the heart is that cold

the beat of it slows

to nearly a nothing—






hold me.




one thing.

to do:


My heart in a safe—


this equation called self.

But a safe isn’t a home

You can’t live in alone

it’s too cold and chrome and catacomb

so I pulled my heart out

blew off the dust

stitched it together

polished the rust

A mad scientist, was I,

heart soaking wood table

I poked and I pried

until I was able

To make life:

the impossible newness

I find inside

a new space


and ready

to let love in again.

So I pick my self up

and paint up my face

call all my friends

go out to this new place.

I lean up against the bar

surveilling the night

and i see my opportunities

spread before me

in a sea of strangers:

I could be that girl

across the bar

in the red dress

leaning in, smiling, smelling

like perfume and hairspray

not laughing, but giggling

whispering, so quiet

beneath her words:

—could you love me?

i could be that bartender

earning rent and coffee and cigarettes

off of the never-ending need

for liquor and small-talk

and one-night stands

Or I could have that guy—

Shirt and collar and all

looking smart and suave and tall

He’d look this way and I’d wink

he’d come over and buy me a drink

and fall in love

with our small talk

I’d know just what to say,

what notes to hit

with a smile blush bat

of these lashes

flash of porcelain knee:

“Look at me!

I’m everything you want me to be.

Cute package and all,

great smile and tall

not bad breasts at all”

Oh, how he’d fall

Then a shrug of skinny shoulders

one more bat of black lash

we’d call for the tab

and he’d put down the cash

we’d hail a cab

he’d take me home

we’d go to France,

we’d go to Rome!

we’d make plans

—as if we’d ever see each other again.

We’d make out in the lobby

—as if we couldn’t wait

—as if it was going to be that good at all

—as if we weren’t hollow.

He’d push me up against his door

like he’d seen in the movies:

my lipstick still perfectly in place

his breath not beer burnt at all

—as if i loved him

—as if i’d never loved you at all.

Inside, he’d take my coat

offer another drink,

one more something please,

I don’t want to have to think

about why I’m here

and who you are

Wine washed we’d stumble

into his bedroom:

then the red dress undressing

shirt and collar hit the floor

the elephant compressing

he’d reach over to his drawer:

He’d bite my neck

and kiss my shoulder

lift my dress

and bend me over

spread me open

—yet find:

two thin lips—

that would utter your name.


2 thoughts on “The Painted Lady

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