At the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River

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Why I Chose It: Michigan Quarterly Review reader Caroline New introduces Erin Slaughter’s “At the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River” from our Spring 2021 issue. You can purchase it here.


As the political framing emphasizes the weight of the legislation passed in Alabama and Georgia, the localization of this poem at the Black Warrior River gives weight to the bodies that carry it. Raised on the Alabama/Georgia border myself, I felt immediately twisted into the “I” that begins the poem, emplaced not only into this geography but this slippery, cultural negotiation of female autonomy. By engraving the female body into the burned and burning landscape, the poem intertwines their similar violation and desperation in an expression of grief that feels urgent in our political landscape.

This body is also wrapped up in time, inextricable from its own beginnings in girlhood and the generations of women that preceded it. Slaughter re-inscribes the traditional practice of geophagy, once considered a primitive act by outsiders, as a motion of escape—a response to the betrayal of women by their own state and the people who constitute it. I felt my own stomach knot and release when, from this slough of imagery, the “I” re-emerges at the end—standing both in the relief of one’s own freedom and the guilt that belies it.


Hit play below to hear Erin Slaughter read her poem “At the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River” and scroll down for the full text. “At the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River” is featured in MQR’s Spring 2021 issue.


At the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River

after the 2019 Georgia & Alabama abortion bans

I dig thumbprint graves, lay charred
             yarrow beneath the slash pine

                            In dreams No, in past
                                                                   selves
             A controlled burn ruptures
 the sky     a milk-
                              crust bruise outside Biloxi
 
              My childhood closet was stuffed
 
 with redheaded baby dolls
                               named for pieces of the body
               that start with R—

 Ligaments
               The less-publicized bones

                                         Road & more road

                catching its tongue on the blood moon
                                Supermoon
 
Orange & misshapen as a clot
                        40 minutes northwest
              of the room where my lover hovers
                  me     a swinging lantern
 
People say women are sieves
             who must take what is given
                                                                     That windless river grief
                                                                      laughs gushes forth

               as the pregnant women exodus
                             to roadside ditches to eat
 red clay with their hands        waterlogged

 ballerinas stumbling in the rust-
                                        stained mud
                                                                               & with blood
                                                                               comes a sadness:
                         
                          How free I remain