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Lore of Swamp Girl

Ryleigh Wann



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.



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

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