» Poetry

Two Poems

Elegy for Recording the Light

with “Victor Jacquemont Holding a Parasol, 1865” & a line from bell hooks


Do you ever get sad thinking that all the dogs

in old paintings are dead? ​More helpless

than the past is the bruise that carves

it into canvas & the root of martyr,


I learned, is witness. So I ​practice saying no

to dusk’s orange heel, poised above

my throat. As if existence has a bloodthirst

for testimony. As if stillness is a eulogy


I’m working up the bravery for.

Contemplating death leads us

back to love. It’s not that the dark

is thicker, but that in the meteoric


hours under a soup’s-ladle
of Orionids, I’m embedded with need

to pass sunflower atoms from my tongue

to your tongue. There are so many people


I will never see old: Most. My father

hiding in the blackberry field

lacing the sun to his ghost boots. After

you tell me about the island mangroves,


I gift you a jar of blackberry jam
from my grandmother’s land & remember

Monet’s admission that while

watching someone he loved


die, he spent up the time analyzing

the pigments in her eyelids, deciding

how to paint them. We​ can only learn

so much from squatting in the dirt


with capillaries hung like dried roses

to preserve in the shroud

of pages. I’ll spend a life failing

to befriend the fear that all of this glows


& ends: a faint slash of tenderness

before the sorrow festival.



Tallahassee Spring



Passing a rare live deer at the side
of the highway, far enough
in the grass to pretend it doesn’t know


the twisted necks & blank eyes

its kind are prone to, a lineage of split livers

ant-eaten like cupcakes


My mother says possums kill
by tunneling up through a creature’s ass

It’s true​. Kick a dead calf, a possum

peeks sheepishly out the bloated mouth


Hold my hand ten more miles & I’ll stop

myself from telling you, again, about the dead

bird in my Kentucky yard & the other
who landed to stare. Unflinching


Even the rabbits are hiding
long-eared ghosts—someone they swallowed

for safekeeping. What if we chose to forget


the impulsive deployment of knives, if we believed

honeybees were the only blameless beings




Birds & more birds
plow the bluegray morning
The shivery opulence with which we split

into a nest of hotbreathed animals


Splayed like iguanas in the daylight
Sometimes you are touching me
& I am thinking up ways to get ovened into dirt


Witnesses, too, are actors
in the grieving process. Driving
into Florida’s oblong belly, I memorized

new spells for desire: tying hair strands

around a bay leaf, then burying it


with both hands in red mud. ​If you have someone

who will bury with you, what we call tenderness

is simply the condition


Again I lay at your back, wearing

the face of the wolves that ate me




Who will tell the bees
the names of all the dead?


My friend’s mother says

she packed the hive in wool


but within days

she found them frozen


in breathless Arkansas winter

Huddled in a ball of ice




When a leaf sprouts does it name itself

Preparation For The Rotting


If you love someone why not make them happy

without you




There is nothing so alive as crying
under purgatorial dawn filtered
through the clanking brogue of a train tunneling backwards


Watching briary porches on the brick tenements
slide away from us like futures
The whole sweet metal sow, inside its glass stomachs

I grow fat with wonder


How potato chip bags & dogs & daylight are all

made of dark space matter & us too, yes, your finger


hooked through my finger like the tiniest window latch, my heart

clinking between your teeth,
the smallest unlatched window




I feel dying.​ Small children say this
Hothouse as fuck this Tallahassee spring
Slivers of broken lightbulb glittering the bedsheets


There was a woman sleeping in the road

that wraps around the cemetery
A stranger


Green green bottomland

wilding my sorrow
with unrelenting blooms


Let us look on one another
with the joyful urgency of cakebearers


Erin Slaughter

Erin Slaughter is the author of A Manual for How to Love Us, a short story collection forthcoming from Harper Perennial in spring 2023, and two books of poetry: The Sorrow Festival (CLASH Books, 2022) and I Will Tell This Story to the Sun Until You Remember That You Are the Sun (New Rivers Press, 2019). She is editor/co-founder of The Hunger, and her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, CRAFT, The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Originally from Texas, she is a PhD candidate at Florida State University, where she co-hosts the Jerome Stern Reading Series. Find her online at erin-slaughter.com