Poem of the Week: Lauren Goodwin Slaughter
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter
It was a moth. It resembled a torn piece
of newsprint caught inside the fixed window
in the filthy stairwell of our first apartment.
What could live in such a place, I’d wonder,
passing the moth on my way down to work
at the new teaching gig, outfit in blouse and slacks—
my mother’s words—that did not stretch.
What could live in a world of hair-web glass,
with black and blackening stuck leaves?
Of course, the moth was dead. Still,
down the flights for prenatal aerobics, or to see
another matinee alone I’d think, What could?
The stairs grew thick with grime and dust.
A ball of something seemed to grow itself.
I starved no matter what and woke each night
to smear globs of Peter Pan on anything
we had. There was no air for me that August.
Yet, this pear to avocado to gourd-big boy became.
I pressed against the pane. This moth has legs,
I finally saw, skinny, with joints, and furred,
like those pussy willows I once named
and rubbed against my cheek at grandma’s house.
And the creature’s wings were more than paper, after all—
spun and flying-full and, somehow, real.
There that thing sat, for years. The baby charged
into a boy. Then, his worrying began.
Plonking past it on our way to school—
his jumbo pack tush-thwacking—or to the store
for milk, my son fret to the isolate of tears
pleading for me to free the moth. It’s scared, Mama,
Mama, do something. Oh, that little guy’s fine,
I tried, Love, see, he’s only sleeping—do you know
the word, nocturnal? He did, and didn’t buy it.
He wants out, my son persist. Still, I could not
form those words. His dog, his bed, his sister—
my moth misses the clouds, he drummed.
I kept, it’s dead, until dead seemed the best,
most agreeable option. Is this failing
somehow, my success? Willow tree
sways of quiet next. Seesaw simple
breath. We came and went and, for months,
hardly looked at all. Shape meant shape
meant shape. Even the radio seemed safe.
The darkest clearing
yields the brightest stars. My son knew this
of the universe. This is what I taught him.
Then came the first-grade field trip
to Samford Planetarium. Circles black
with circles, tiers of disbelieving kids.
The sun—the sun will die, Mom?—
as he sprint off the bus, up the stairs
and to me, spilling Luna the Lion,
snack-fish confetti and all those cheerful
illustrations of smiling stock houses
puffing smiling white smoke. Oh, Sweetheart,
not die (did I try to chuckle?). Again, not die,
exactly. You see, the sun is not really alive
in the way we understand. More, the sun
will cease to burn. More, this gorgeous
heat this love just morphs to ice and fails
and falls, its glimmering tail sweeping
the impossible, brief shock of us—
our morning cuddle, your sleep-stale hair
beside me. Don’t fear, it is more like that.
It’s like that window painted shut that was never ours
to open. This isn’t even our apartment.
or—a sound—one name—goes loose
in the place—then, music names on air
from the kitchen:
Amanda Alvear; Oscar Arancena-Montero
in that verified sober newscaster voice,
too careful to annunciate
the throb of knowing, always knowing
what’s coming next—
Antonio Davon Brown
Lauren Goodwin Slaughter is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is the author of the poetry collection, a lesson in smallness, which was a finalist for the Rousseau Prize for Literature. Her poems have recently appeared in 32 Poems,Sugar House Review, Nashville Review, and Kenyon Review Online. She is an assistant professor of English at The University of Alabama at Birmingham where she is also Editor-in-Chief of NELLE, a literary journal that publishes writing by women.