Crowned beauties smile with their teeth
strong enough to bite through the necks
of prey or even the predators they sometimes grasp
behind their heads, nonchalant about the venom.
Who has time for poison when shotguns gleam
twice as bright, sometimes fire of their own volition?
“People first,” Carmen trills while keeping tabs
on neighbors, their penchants for novelty mailboxes.
She’s a girl raised on raw beets and paperback horror,
so nobody trusts her alone with their pets.
Yesterday, her motto stumbled, stuck
in the news cycle of pop star chemical weapons,
and she hummed theme songs, anything to keep
her knees and feet facing the same direction.
It’s not that far to Los Angeles. This town wants
a hoodwink, a hint of what little concrete keeps out.
Instead it gets hootenannies and fair booths in praise
of turnips, of grits, of local creek water moonshine.
In praise of livestock, of machine operators,
their clavicles protruding like rusted-out gutters.
In praise of the makeshift parking lots,
of grease, of Carmen saying “Buenos días, ya’ll”
to the hooting of glamour-starved whistlers
whose lust makes the pigs nervous in their pens.
The Only Person on This Swamp Tour
The lady can’t pronounce the place name,
remarks on air bubbles instead, how some
journalists scuba in the name of news or such.
The guide is all grim, doesn’t like that sort of talk.
When they approach the hatching site, they’re quiet
as kin, ancient as any beast eyeballing their calves.
“The ducks set up shop amongst the ferrets of our climate,”
the guide says. We’ve set a precedent for them, stowed
our baby dolls in plastic buggies to better accommodate
their bawling, begotten names to tell them apart,
each piece of porcelain. Here’s where the eggs go,
in that sliver where sunlight strikes at the mud
until it’s gelatinous enough to cradle something.
“Come along, the pontoon’s waiting,” the guide says.
Divers keep dynamite dry
underneath their second skins
and solder with tools useless
in the bright above.
They nod with a language
that can never convey fear,
only who dropped the wrench.
Here, two hundred feet down
in the filthy black, the river mud
eats metal and boots if they stay
too long in one place.
When the bridge emerges
from her cradle, no longer rocking
but adult, the finned ones
will have blistered and fed
and let loose growls,
self-satisfied by how dry
the sound and how loud.
Nothing If Not Willing
Dig fast lest they come for you, bind
your hands before you lick your fingers clean.
One letter says, If you move your plastic tanks
into Russia, I’ll move mine into Poland.
They don’t say to tape her to your torso,
fold a coat around, and let the winds blow
as if knocking kings off cliffs, as if mad
with jealousy over losing girls to scouts.
They don’t say if you hit iron, keep going;
you’re not deep enough to bury the evidence.
Erica Wright is the author of Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and the chapbook Silt (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). Her debut crime novel, The Red Chameleon, will be published next year by Pegasus Books. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. She is the Poetry Editor at Guernica Magazine and has taught creative writing at Marymount Manhattan College and New York University’s continuing studies program.