Painted Ladies

by Allyn Bernkopf

One time I caught a Painted Lady. I was eight,
so I pinched her wings between my thumb
and forefinger, watched her legs run in midair.

Her antennae silently switched back and forth,
Dad’s car started, and I sat mesmerized. The colors
in her wings vibrated as the queasy engine left—

I ran my thumb along her tips and marveled
how soft and delicate she was. I closed my eyes
to make sure I remembered every detail of her opulence.

I work foundation into pores, smearing skin
in light beige. Highlights whiten forehead, cheek
bones, nose, and chin, blending away imperfections.
I carve my eyes in blackest of black, create cat-eye

corners to enlarge the effect, brush lids in colors
of nude and apply a scintillating holographic
blush. Line lips Revlon 45: Naughty Plum.
I lace my black stilettos around feet and leave.

Mom called from inside the house,
tears tarnished her pale skin. I observed

how my Lady fluttered. As delicate as she,
I placed her in my mouth and swallowed.

She shivered as she went down and so did I.
I knew she would always be safe with me.

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