Slugs

By Brian Swann Brian Swann
Who could have dreamed them up? At least snails
have shells, but all these have is—nothing.
Small black antennae like fat pins wave
as if they could take in enough to get them through.
Turn them over, they’re the soles of new shoes,
pale and unmarked as babies. They flow,
the soil itself learning how to move and, moving,
almost staying still, their silver monorail
the only evidence of where they’d been.
And they die quiet, or at least (thankfully)
out of the human ear’s range, between two stones,
under heels, shriveling in salt or piss, at the tips
of sharp sticks. Fight back, I hear myself say,
do something. Don’t just take it. But they die
as they had lived, exuding slime, like
the smaller boys, who’d just
stand there, miserable in short pants,
school socks down to their ankles,
school tie unknotted and askew, and flowing
from noses slow cauls of snot that
from time to time they’d lick or sniff back up
part way, until it flowed again, coating
the upper lip, falling into the mouth, mixing
with tears before anything had been done,
the fear itself enough, so even if we wanted
we couldn’t let them off. Sometimes it was
the knee “where you daren’t show your mother,”
other times the kick in the shins, the stick over
the head, the punch in the mouth, while they
just stood there, or double up, gasping
for breath, and we did it again.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2012

Biography

Poet, critic, and translator Brian Swann earned a BA and an MA from Queens’ College, Cambridge, and a PhD from Princeton University. His collections of poetry include Autumn Road (2005), which won the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry; Snow House (2006), winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize; and In Late Light (2013).
 
In addition to poetry, Swann has authored numerous collections of fiction, . . .

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Poems by Brian Swann

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Life Choices, Sorrow & Grieving, The Body, Youth

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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