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Leather Ladies

Poem by Dakota Parks

Published in Sinister Wisdom, 2023

In a flea-market leather shop with my girlfriend
browsing biker jackets, journals, gun holsters
the smell of sun-warmed dirt, sweet, floral smoke,
an artificial pollination all-consuming
my hands wrap around her hips
sizing a belt against her caramel skin
The shopkeeper side-eyes us
above her table of tools—mallets, awls, edge bevelers
the shaky leather hole punch struggles
between her calloused fingers
succumbed to arthritis from years of labor
Just then
as frustration furrows her brow,
another woman, late 60s, maybe 70s
small frame, same tough alligator hands
weathered and rugged
emerges from the back room,
brushing a hand along the shopkeeper’s lower back
leaning in close, bodies pressed
intimate over tanned leather
The whispered words, “don’t worry, honey”
so faint they disappear in the sound waves
like stale air, stuffed in a closet—

The woman, punching belt holes,
suddenly looks up,
calculating company
that arithmetic of safety
quantifies friend over foe
nods that familiar nod in our direction
as if to say, “I see you.”
It is so hard not to see them
Stuck like a sore thumb
Their own storefront surrounded
by Confederate flags, red MAGA hats:
hate-fueled propaganda
wrapping a bible belt around their throats
While they steal back the space between their bodies
one belt loop at a time

I like to imagine these women,
outlaws in San Francisco
rumbling Harleys between their thighs
riding the Castro strip
leather jacket–clad
with the gear cog Dykes on Bikes logo
emblazoned on the shoulders
Or, maybe christening their first shop
in Andersonville, Chicago
making love on the counter
serenaded by Cyndi Lauper
knocking over
custom ticket orders:
assless chaps, chest harnesses, zip-up face masks
for the Boystown leather bar
those sweaty leather lovers at the Cell Block
Maybe even
plotting a feminist revolution
in West Village
blinding disco lights, women’s bodies
bouncing and grooving
at Bonnie & Clyde’s
while activists plan fundraisers
hustling leather bullwhips, riding crops
ball gags and handcuffs to pay
for their feminist zines and
women centers

I can picture these ladies,
Weaving together strands
of leather, sands of time
—as elders, they have
seen what hate can do
ripping its way through
our community
our people.

At the checkout counter, my girlfriend
jars me out of the
chronicles of history
small talking with the leather ladies
she tells them,
“Just the belt.”
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