Emily Holt

'If Not Savior' and 'Stay or Go'

Emily Holt

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If Not Savior

In the old dream, I am trying to know

who killed Johnny down by the corner store,

though we know it was all of us,

all our hands. I circle after the man you know

but the legs—wanting—

and the boy’s face—make desire a thin rag.


You are steps beyond when the men

intercept me just out the toilet.

A royal blue dress with a slit in the front,

the back and weaving around the places

you’d want or apparently they want.

He wants the black heels too. They ask

what brought me. The older asks

if I know the younger whose had his eye

at me and I guess I’ve mine on him.


There’s a way of looking reserved

for women—the one look to say yes,

bed and yes, gun or fist or rope

or back-of-hand, and those yes’s

are not one and the same

and you have to keep up the looking

though others’ll say it’s your fault—

the dress, the skin, askin’ for it the way

only skin asks for it.


Because the boy’s face and the want

and the man all in the same sunlit room

with the rough plaid couch is a cut

lip, the man and I have not yet touched,

and the fear of the boy makes me say

Come, come, because just saying it once

is a command, twice a touch on the arm.

I run though all the rooms looking

for the start—the lips—I will have no choice.


Because we’ve learned the ways to ask for it,

made up a few, knowing how men love

to come to a bed in which they are the savior.

If not savior then supplicant. We’ve learned

that best-kept secret that comes with war—

that men do want to get on their knees

in a kitchen where you are the water

and the faucet. In a tub when no water

runs in the pipes. The violence comes after.

It wears many hands. It’s the click

and clacking of the high-heeled shoes

and the love that loves. It’s slipstreams

and backstreets in the wind and the rain.


What do you say to that? To me, at last,

twisting in this body? To letting what comes in

come in? Behind the ritual […] the spiritual.

In this city, the man’s hands do not hold

a rubber or the acid or the plastic baggy.

They hold a cigarette out toward me.

They are empty until they find my breast.

They hold the child lost from me and never


truly started. I want to scrub the devices

from this, but see, there, there they are

and they shared the same air as our child

and the lips and the blood stain on the couch,

and you and I both know we will keep running

though our hands, our heads are cut

we will keep running through the night

searching for another way of violence

to drink down and build from.


Notes for ‘If Not Savior’:

click and clacking of the high-heeled shoes and the love that loves from Van Morrison’s 1968 song ‘Madame George’

Behind the ritual […] the spiritual from Van Morrison’s 2008 song ‘Behind the Ritual’



Stay or Go

You with the blood

over your eye, the

burnt hair. Take this

cup of water, drink it


all at once, breathing

in the off-gulps.

Leave him out of it.

He hasn’t enough time.


The car is wrecked,

the seats shimmering as

you are dazed and

dazzling, glass in your


hair. When you walk

home tonight, walk on

the left. Let the

passerby—all two or


three of them, let

their headlights light your

head. Let them see


the cut glowing, your

eyes dead-on. They

will not know you.

They will see their


own, heading home

the last time. Let

them have that.


Emily Holt


Emily Holt's essay "Hunger" is forthcoming in the nonfiction anthology Brief Encounters (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015), and her poems have appeared in Fragments literary journal. She is a candidate in the MFA in Creative Writing at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state and teaches poetry in a youth jail with the nonprofit organization Pongo Teen Writing.