Four Poisons




Even after frost, that clutch of pokeweed leers

from a gutted bush as I walk by, fruit thick

as a boy’s jawbone on the waning vine.


I’d like to pulp them under the heels

of my hands, drip poison through the faults

lined in my palms. When my dad dropped

like a rotted apple and rolled to another town,

I stared all summer at those dark berries skeining

what used to be his toolshed.


I wanted to fall asleep with my tongue

the same purple as the veins

in Mama’s neck when she told him you will give me

your respect, and so will your ungrateful child.


I wanted to eat. I wanted to hurt.




My college roommate and I discuss how best to slip

our parents their meds. I tell her about crushing

lithium into Mama’s homemade applesauce, still pink

with peel. When I call her for the first time in a month,

she tells me she lost her job – no more pills, no more health

insurance – so I say I won’t be home for Christmas

this year. She’ll be happier without me.


She says your first word should have been “abandon.”




In middle school, I ink lists of black-eyed things

on the hinge of my right wrist: peas and Susans,

a dead wren cleaved with maggots, the girl who sits

beside me in homeroom with her shuttered face

pale as Xanax, no makeup on the blue-black ring

my dad once called a shiner.


One day, I touch her wrist and whisper, you’re lucky.

At least they’re leaving you something that’ll heal,

a hurt you can prove if you have to.

Forgive me, black-eyed girl.

I thought I was telling the truth.




The first time I meet my girlfriend, it’s past midnight.

She flattens my back to a door, teeth at my throat.


I say, let’s count the flares from the gas wells.

There’s a place where the groundwater burns.

Let’s find it. Let’s take a candle and a match.

She says, I love you like a field full of jasmine.


I don’t say, No one could love a girl like me.

My heart is a shipwreck of ice.

Every word I know rhymes with “abandon.”



Emily Rose Cole is a writer and lyricist from Pennsylvania. She has received awards from Jabberwock Review, Ruminate Magazine, and the Academy of American Poets, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Yemassee, and Passages North, among others. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. You can reach her via her website at