“Judith Poem no. 4” & “protein” by Alanna McArdle

Detached head and pigeons in foggy pink space

Judith Poem no.4

        after Artemisia Gentileschi

A lot of girls, they write about Judith.
They like the blood,
they like the oil,
the severed shadows,
how her muscles barely flex, but still
she looks so strong

There’s an impossibility for you

Just like how I tell myself
if I looked at that painting
long enough,
there’d be a murder of men
all rolling red and headless around me

You didn’t like my fundamentals.
This wasn’t supposed to be a break-up poem.
Usually you’re crawling by this point,
but this time feels different. Is different.
Where’s the apology,
its moulting petals,
the rip of pink
shoved through the letterbox,
the shop-bought card where you list your faults?

A lot of girls are writing about Judith.
I’m writing about her eyes rolled back like, ha ha, fucker,
as if that’s how it feels to kill a guy,
and sure, I’d believe that.
I’m not talking about you though,
trust me. But the other ones,
they fill the canvas
even when I try to blank it
out. It smells of turps in here.
It smells like burnt hair.
It smells like hot blood, blood reduction,
syrup, rust.

I’m running home
       (except I’m not, that’s just how
I’d want you
to imagine it)
and tears are ripping through the air
and my shoe is caked in dog shit and my long,
long coat is muddy at the hem,
and I’m getting over it.
My body is unseeable, my
hair is wild and I could shapeshift if I wanted,
and in this dream
I am a wonderful painter, too


Well I guess you could fuck me like that
like sweet Sandrine
pulling the tail out of her bag
and saying
have you ever tried this?
So she could parade me around
like a fox, wan and mangy, limping
on the dual carriageway at night
watching the pigeons eat the bones
of other birds
or dragging a black bin bag between my

And dirty Isaac
with his speculum,
who told me milk is PH neutral
no harm in that, he laughed
tightening the cords

All I do is dream of eating,
and lie in sap
get a freezer burn
from some steel bench
but really
it's so pretty in the future
the whole earth matted,
you can almost see the viscous trails
from outer space
and taste it
so metallic

I’ve got to keep my iron up, you see
I’ve got to grab you by the ears
and tell you
this is why I wear a collar


Alanna McArdle is from London. Her work has appeared in Pilot Press’ Modern Queer Poets, Prelude Magazine, Poems in Which, and Structo Magazine, among others. Her short story “Butter” was shortlisted for the 2018 Desperate Literature prize, and her debut pamphlet ‘split ends’ was published by Makina Books in January 2020.

This week’s illustrations are by Esme Blegvad (@esmerelduh), a self-taught artist from London. She was a staff illustrator at Rookie Magazine and has drawn comics and illustrations for Vice, Polyester Zine and the Poetry Review, among others. She also makes hand-drawn animations, and memes focused around the 1997 blockbuster masterpiece of modern cinema, Titanic