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  You could have a big dipper   

art critic by Tessa Swackhammer

CW: Allusions to self harm

I see myself in it, I say, and you

you kind of roll your eyes because the

painting is just a red blot on the canvas

what a narcissist, you think, but you hold it like a

peppermint behind your teeth

you think I don’t know but I can

smell it on your breath

I just can’t shake the feeling that that is me

that I’m right there that the

painting is just like the

splash of blood on the ceramic in the

bathroom when I forgot to check the


it’s the

spot on the stairs my sister cleaned with a sponge

purple, ragged, fingertips

until my mom touched her shoulder and said,

leave it, leave it there

at least she is


and it’s just a red spot but think of the

red that lives in all of us like a

spot on a painter’s palette

red, like roses in the summer wilting in heat,

red, like cherry lips around a milkshake straw when you realize

hey, there’s something about the way a girl behaves

red, like the spot of colour I could feel on my cheeks

when my teachers would point at me and say,

what is wrong with you?

why can’t you just


red, like the way fear tastes (cinnamon


I don’t say any of us this

because I’m not sure how to get these words to leave

so you keep that mint in your teeth and later, in bed,

I let you say: you’re not everything, you know

and I say, sure, but I am to me.


Tessa Swackhammer is a queer writer from Canada. Her work has been featured in Jaden Magazine and City Limits Press, and was shortlisted for the Plough Arts Prize for Poetry (2021) and longlisted for the Fractured Literary Flash Fiction Prize (2021). You can find them on Twitter and Instagram @TessaSwck.

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