Portrait of a Queen with Dirty Martini, Covered in Cat Hair

Natalie Tombasco

Once upon a liquid lunch, the Queen of Sourpuss plunged
            into the magic mirror, tunneling down to the realm
                       of mismatched glassware, she began to doubt, who
was the fairest, after all? Flush as a pimento, she screamed
           at the gilded frame, “I’ve got purses older than you!”
                      & eye-rolled her way through woodland creatures,
trampling gnarled groves—what would Marx say of the price
           of apples? She avoided the life-saving kisses, the necrophiliacs.
                      What she needed was Andy Cohen, a botox frown,
an expensive skincare routine. She needed answers.
           The Queen of Compact Mirrors arrived at the glass lagoon.
                      Out from sharp waves, the Old Wives appear hooded,
glistening—as if they have concluded treaties with whelk.
           The thing about Old Wives are their violet eyes & how
                      they enter rooms mouth-first, singing katydid hymns.
One Wife turns into a ferry and shuttles them across a century
           towards the Guarded Place. The Queen can only think copper
                      thoughts as she bores the Old Wives with her stories,
each one beginning, “…my stomach growled, and then I left.”
           It is in their secret bog place where the Old Wives get comfortable;
                      one reveals her housedress & varicose veins, one tweezes
her chin, another slingshots a bra onto the lip of the mantle.
           In this place, they speak in metalanguage like bluejay gossip.
                      Boy, do they pass the Bechdel test. The Queen of Hot Flashes
is served Marlboro Lights, the heart of a sad virgin. Never
           expect a queen to do her dirty work. A throaty storm rolls in
                      like the emptying of an ashtray. The leader grunts the signal:
it is time. They walk Her Evilness down a long hallway
           of prismatic wallpaper & doors: rooms of girls, rooms lush
                      with flora & fountains, conservatories of deathcomas.
Temptation is wire hangers is napalm is nectar.
           Her Badness digs her maraschino manicure into a reflecting
                      coffin, as if to say, this one. Up, up to the laboratory,
the Old Wives get to the bunsen burner: bee pollen, an eye for an eye,
           a pinch of jellyfish. The Queen needs something of pretty girls,
                      starving girls—girls who are withering, weaponlike.
The Replica levitates over a pedestal: a succulent larvae
           of dead matter & cold cream. Her Realness thinks of the men
                      in her life—mail carriers, henchmen, philosophers—
their heavy breasts, their under-eye bags like pregnancy pillows;
           thinks of how each morning she mouths olive juice, olive juice,
                      olive juice into the looking glass; thinks of vanity as worthiness,
as something that can’t be washed off in an ancient pond,
           as a little reminder, like an old dog, of your replacement; thinks
                      of how beauty can be stuck inside a canvas, grown in an incubator,
           or spill & roll away like marbles on an uneven floor.
NATALIE LOUISE TOMBASCO is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University and serves as the Interviews Editor of the Southeast Review. Her work can be found in Copper Nickel, Southwest Review, Fairy Tale Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Meridian, Salt Hill, Third Coast, The Rumpus, The Boiler, Poet Lore, VIDA Review, among others. She has been nominated for the Best New Poets anthology for 2020 and has a chapbook forthcoming with CutBank in 2021 titled Collective Inventions.