Peggy/ An Inventory

Lauren Russell
She has a recipe for cornbread and one for curing hog cholera and another for keeping quiet and another for children born too close together. She has a cast iron skillet and a pale blue bandanna and a steel thimble she slips over her finger when she works up a quilt, a shirt, a song. She has a wash pot and a boiling stick and a fear of ha’nts and a way of looking twice over her shoulder. She has an apron she rips into rags in one smooth motion and a song for every kind of weather but days when the sun will not shine out. She has a butcher knife and a paring knife, a knife for extracting chiggers, a knife for scraping hogs, and a knife she hides under her bed before births to soften the pain. She has a deep belly groan like the HE&WT Railway grinding toward Houston, and even her lullabies crack like kindling. No one will own to hearing her cry, but her laugh is the crash of breaking glass—sharp, high, and exactingly brief.

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Lauren Russell is the author of Descent (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2020), winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 2021 Anna Rabinowitz Award, and What’s Hanging on the Hush (Ahsahta Press, 2017). She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as residencies from the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and City of Asylum/Passa Porta. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, The Brooklyn Rail, DIAGRAM, and the anthology Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry, among others. She was assistant director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh from 2016 to 2020. In the fall of 2020, she joined the faculty of Michigan State University as an assistant professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities and director of the RCAH Center for Poetry.

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Grafton, Vermont

"How can one fill in the gaps of a family history? The history that resists the dry ink of records, newspapers, headstones, and maybe even escapes the juice of oral history and diaries. How can we imagine the complexity of an ancestor’s struggle and paradoxes? In Descent, the very talented poet Lauren Russell shows us how to write what we do not know; to give with grace and dignity, humanity to names on the family tree. Descent is a search for truths felt in one’s bones."
—Brenda Coultas

"'I am a poet. I am not a historian.' Thus Lauren Russell’s biomythographic (say: “Lorde”) reckoning with the past passes into a gap that’s the missing words of a newly freedwoman, a Pittsburgh bed now absent a lover, a dug up grave. What Russell makes of what she finds missing is her Descent, an audacious, acid, lyrical re-membering that asks, what do we demand of the past, and what to do with its refusal? Russell’s deep archive would not answer her back. With Descent, however, she speaks to us. Sit all the way down and listen up."
—Douglas Kearney

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