Every Atom | No. 93

Lauren Goodwin Slaughter

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

ea logo



Whitman’s beard glows blue with aquariumlight. He’s in his usual spot in the rocker in the corner—the same chair I once used to nurse, where I felt those crazy jolts of want and need and life and nourishment pass through me. (Maybe Whitman feels it too. What could be more Whitman than to feel it—or, claim to?) His frumpy, selfsame hat eclipses one side of his soft, folded face that turns pink now as the shifting light from the aquarium turns pink. He appears a little cartoony, a little silly, his features integrating with all the silly faces of stuffed animals peeping from bookshelves on either side. Kinda like that scene from E.T. 

I’m perched on the edge of my son’s bed shushing him through another night terror. He’s been dreaming about fish again—their end, the air they can’t find. It’s been a few weeks since Twinkle—whose chosen name, I’m convinced, foretold its demise—crumpled into a ball beside the treasure chest and stopped moving. It was the household’s first death, and as such came complete with backyard burial and carefully chosen words beside the jammed-in stick we used for a grave-marker. I like how your fins were like fans, my son said. And the way you would sneak behind the treasure chest and hide. My son insisted I put Twinkle inside of a Ziploc baggie before placing him into the little hole so that our cat, Izzy, would not dig him up to eat. Guilty of yet another environmental botch (all those Capri Sun straws! Mountains of shitty Pampers!) I complied. In it went. Just like that. Death arrived. 

“Mom,” my son says to me, “is Twinkle in heaven?” 

The noisemaker I got at our local mall’s Brookstone is set to ocean-sounds. A crashing wave obscures Whitman’s pointed clearing of the throat. 

“Good question,” I deflect, brushing a comma of sweaty blonde hair from my son’s forehead. Oh, my beautiful, beautiful boy. I should feel gratitude for the straightforward stories he learns at his sweet, purple-covered, Episcopal school. Yes, I should say, and watch the field of relief settle upon him. 

Another thing I got at Brookstone: a nightlight that projects the cosmos onto the ceiling. It’s a blue circle filled with almost-overlapping planets and stars. My son won’t turn the lights off without it, but I can’t even stand to look.  

My son is in his bedroom in a long brick house on a quiet oak-covered street in Birmingham, Alabama, on a piece of land we call America, on top of oceans curved around a circle that is our own at once magnificent and miniscule world. The world is in my son who I somehow—great mystery! —made. It is in me. Everything that ever was and ever will be.

Have you, too, seen the image of the first-photographed black hole? 

And, still: 

Urge, Whitman goes in his rocker, Urge and urge and urge.

placeholder width 225px height 300px

Lauren Goodwin Slaughter is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and author of the poetry collection, a lesson in smallness. Her poems, essays, and stories appear or are forthcoming in Image, RHINO, Pleiades, Kenyon Review Online, New South, and 32 Poems, among other places. She is an assistant professor of English at The University of Alabama at Birmingham where she is also Editor-in-Chief of NELLE, a literary journal that publishes writing by women. Find her at www.laurenslaughter.com. 


Cover art by Samantha Schmiesing