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