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Red Paint

/erin slaughter


on my father’s death day I do not write I wear a dress earrings feel as if it matters the air a ripe wet lung as it always is it rains as it does daily I do not tilt my face towards or away fall asleep hair smelling cigarette char & soft ash tell a stranger at the bar if I have to drink another gin & tonic this week I’ll scream I order another my throat writhing quiet like a mouse on the edge of python’s teeth before first pricking delighted in proximity to a thing with ability to slice I do not write do not tell my friends except the day before & day after I say it was

my father’s death day & it will be I catalog men who do not love me their voices scrubbed from their words monuments I visit daily as if sentences are not expired & stone as if I will catch them growing new branches & climb flowering to elsewhere there is no grave to visit my father is ashes which means he is nowhere I remember his phone number do not call it or want to startle who’s on the other line & call this kindness though secretly

every six months or so confirm it’s disconnected plug flaccid hanging from the wall who’d want to take residence in a murdered man’s ear who on this earth can wrangle responsibility for their one regretful mouth the night before I tell a boy say tomorrow is my father’s death day we say other things too stolen cigarette from a sad man in a booth my skirt awry smeared gardenia thighs it’s summer still august & always its neon-petaled violence he asks me to suck his cock in the backseat of my car I bargain for his lips but take neither wake hazy & ecstatic I have so much dignity I can barely believe it that I escaped intact

when my self had any choice in the matter I’ve made carnivals of splitting my flesh wide as spectacle to see what insects come hovering the scar line sleep alone dream I am a literal queen wearing a literal crown the whole fucked country bracing themselves to be pummeled by motorcades of desire I’m sorry & I’m not on the anniversary of death I’m wearing red it was an accident another gin & tonic I have grown so much to love it here

& cry now only on Sundays & when stoplights sprawl the wet street like roadkill rending garments of manufactured light my friend buckles his knees to meet me at eye level there is an infant in this bar who will not remember us I glance at his hands my chest opening around a stone there is no name for

& laughter no talk of endings how they are so much beginnings a single unsightly morning played on various sets struggling to get it right & losing to feral noise stumbling joyous through bush & mud & foreign asphalt sometimes there are trees which make a difference I am trying to get it right this time so speak to me of swineherds owned by ill-intentioned valleys of the bloodclot algae that blooms the drinking supply for miles tendons neatly filed beneath the skin another gin & tonic I have no secrets have never I wretch them

up whole like fish my father was an alcoholic he was probably other things but time is a river that corrodes all but the pillars memory & the unseemly dead of us swept like leaves from the street never met a body of water so unafraid of forgetting if we have the same blood if your blood is my blood how much of our blood is poison he thought when he died he was leaving

a wife new cobbled future stretched out if not a field a standard sidewalk maybe with dawn splashed like sturdy spoonfuls of orange sherbet I once got so high convinced myself I wrote every Bon Iver song once played ukulele for beings I loved more than my own organs & thought us heaven once loved one person & learned a song he hummed I still remember the chords though can’t remember his voice only the polished shape of his fingernails that he opened me & I flooded

childlike glittering agony entered & I clenched around it like a bleeding rabbit around a hole in the dirt that his eyes were windows blue & lit with no geography glass doors leading to nothing that he lived a mirror was of the mountains & far away now streaked with red dust some other life I tell people I will die young

tell people I love they will die very old & withered imagine time an eroding storm around the jewel of enduring eyeshine gnaw on the song of it for pleasure here’s a secret never uttered if you are someday someone in an old photograph I am grateful to have known you I swear this fistful of bone I will cry until there is no salt to be hunted

from your story a song that would split the living sear delicate maps from palms I was harvested from shells of torn-down truck stops migration a luxury only river I’d known the roadside ditch I fled to at twelve glass fractures & shoelaces gritty 7-up bottles & coors I was found of course & dragged by my arm from the pit tearful begged to live my life within scrape new existence from that grave of shard & mud some towns are small & living is tedious sorrow is not the right word redemption is

too valorous & I am seasick of forgiveness I would just like to say that I finally found a collection of thorns to harm me in ways I’ve only longed for at the bar a friend says you have a face that makes me want to tell you all my secrets I laugh as if I am the goddamn river itself as if any body silt stone wet bank of thrumming motion a human would choose

to drown in whatever is burning anyway is not burning here the river is a place people croon loneliness they call it their own names & sometimes it answers a crater for boys to splash dazzling in their long-limbed hate the thing about these boys they are never surprising always alive inside their skin smile a corsage pinned at the corner of their mouth begins to rot before you even take it home but oh how pretty in a florescent drug store kind of way & girls too wishing to translate freedom into the next hungry moment as if by swallowing could hoard a vial of earlobe eyelash instant of dizzy sweat as if there is any door inside us we can nail shut that flood will not lick open for example I would like to share a meal with you without hibernating

inside my organized bones or choking down these burdened orchards the river has no secrets like this unless if you call secret what churns beneath the surface poised to tug strangers to its center & if you only float you will only ever feel it love you but why when to be split like sugared bark so gently in the current’s rabid womb even an animal would not bother a death so fragrant yes people have died

at the river submerging their necks open eyes rinsed blank their hands their hands an afterthought hair tangled as tillandsia yes even some ugly core of water craves memorabilia to buttress the ravine of days & lunar dark to ransack words like a pile of loose matches what can they do who will language save or shelter exile now

from river its aches of sun & moss-itched charm tonight I wish to be a dull man on a porch drinking plain American beer a man who has never thought about hands beyond what they can & can’t make happen staring into the potato-dense night trees laden with screeching with my birthday card every letter my grandmother includes information addresses phone numbers & names petitions so the woman who killed him stays

barred up & barren-armed I lie & do not write them two weeks before this year’s death day I turned 25 alone on a southeastern beach & hallucinated flock of wrinkles what cliché I wore a fancy dress to dine with no ghosts stumbled in humid dark & forced cobblestone my grandmother says he was her small buttoned baby says of his wife who killed him monster yet for months they slept beside one another without incident I wonder if she watching him breathe woke to hear him choke on sleep & felt fond I ask

no one if I were to divorce this grief it would wrack me bloodspilt on some suburban carpet too make of my skull the same unrelenting doorway if grief was a tablet that dissolves instead of dormant virus singing its lunatic sorrow in the bloodstream fear one day I will again love someone something one day I will survive to love no one wanting nothing & if the day my lover comes home smelling of embankments iron-drenched mud & a salt belonging to ether if he reveals a hand not an altar

built for absence or for to clench around absence call it sustenance call us starved if I beg him to scar me some evidence of him there & real if he gestures only to the crippled oak if the revolver at my neck

is to be expected & his eye a cyan apology what then marks this waterlogged tongue mangled manic life-scarred interesting at parties if healing is a flower so simple with glory it has never even dreamt the back of my throat

Erin Slaughter is editor and co-founder of The Hunger, and the author of I Will Tell This Story to the Sun Until You Remember That You Are the Sun (New Rivers Press, 2019). Her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Cincinnati Review, The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Originally from north Texas, she is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University. You can find her online at

Illustration by Aliya Smith.


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