Lore of Swamp Girl
LORE OF SWAMP GIRL
I wasn’t always this wretched. Men paint me up when they talk outside the shaken down juke joint, drunk off warm whiskey, drool pooling from snarled teeth: the woman who hides in the swamp off the Delta— murky with moss and mud and sedge grass, eyes wide as the Mississippi sky— makin’ love to the gators, wearin’ their teeth ‘tween her tits. The truth is, I’m not sure how I came to be stranded among cattails and Cottonmouths, but I can sense a storm days before its orgasm shakes the roots in this swamp. My bones feel that swelling pain as it rattles beneath my mocking sky. You said our lust was as natural as a katydid’s hymn at dusk, true as kudzu strangling a sycamore. Inevitable, like that tree’s eventual uprooting. I conjure you from here, so far out my seraphim song won’t reach you. I will not rest until I have tasted the tongue of any man or woman who calls me Doll or until you lie with me under this cypress tree. Only then will I leave these waters that birthed me, my fruit-rot core better for it— and no one will know the ending of this, my genesis. How I was once this land’s first wounded animal.
I would have swallowed her whole had I thought it would make things easier. It was late April when infrasonic vibrations brought her to me. Mating season. The sun was just beginning to rise, fracture of crimson light on the lotus pods, and her— woman sprawled along the stump of a log, wrapped in exposed roots, footprints fresh on the bank. When she opened her eyes, their dark greens felt familiar, felt like my mother’s claw holding my chin after I lost my egg tooth. Small thing, darling doe whimpering upon seeing me, and something about her shock made me want to be both cause and nurse of any wound that could create a song like that. Her tangled hair was mud dark, a tar- black sky, and her whisper, when she asked what I wanted, appeared like millions of stars in the Southern twilight I wished on until my voice dried out. Everything. And so it was. The very genesis of our lore was with one swift bang of my head. This human knew that’s how gators claimed their birthright. Their bride. I know this because she extended her arm, glowing transparent as gossamer. When I dragged her home, I told her crocodiles shed tears when they eat their prey. Swamp Girl rose to the bait, asked how alligators differed. She would learn soon enough.
WHERE WILLOWS WEEP
Somewhere deep behind the bald cypress where willows weep, where the water is green as corpse skin & algae swallows fallen trees, Swamp Girl gives birth. Listen: the cries of cicadas cover her shrill screams–the bitter breeze is coming to be. Daddy Gator isn’t around–out on a fresh hunt, a new doe to pin down. Purple Gallinule, her doula, wipes sweat from the mother’s forehead, kisses sharp cheekbones, whispering: there, there, sweet peach. Fists clench the moss & with one last grunt, the hatchling is born upon the lotus pod. Swamp Girl picks up her creation, holds wrath-machine in her arms: brown scales blurring, claw hands like two stubby buds. The tail, long & striped, curves down the small of its back, while the face—oh God, the face—stares hungrily into its mother’s eyes, the same feral curiosity as the child’s father. Blue eyes with deep, black slits don’t blink. Tufts of yellow hair sprout from the scalp. Lips surrounding spiked teeth don’t cry—they don’t even quiver. Loathed child, you did not deserve this. Swamp Girl draws the thing to her breast, offers a nipple. The swamp weeps for the new mother, flooding the surrounding plains, drowning out anguish often mistaken for something innate. This, after all, is how weeping willows were named.
Ryleigh Wann (she/her) earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington, where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. She is the Lyric Essentials editor for Sundress Publications and currently lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @wannderfullll or read her published poems and prose on her website ryleighwann.com
Please consider subscribing to the McNeese Review or purchasing a current issue or past one! Click on the Submit button to find out more about subscription and purchase options.