• Lammergeier Staff

How to Sugar for the Atlas | Traci Brimhall

Updated: Mar 30


Begin first with the intent to lure a bright species,

the luna with its lichen glow, or the cloudless sulphur

with its daffodil flutter. Ask the moon for the garnet

symmetry of the atlas with its wing powder like ash


or the wrong snow. Create the temptation—brown

sugar, stale beer, molasses, blackened bananas. Ratios

aren't important, but apply to bark with a paintbrush

while singing murder ballads until your trees reek


with sweetness. Coat them at dusk and wait for dark.

Watch for souls returning with furred faces and nocturnal

hungers approaching from arctic latitudes. Yes, call

his name when the first one arrives. Don't be surprised


he doesn't recognize you. Watch him dip his proboscis

with tender amnesia in the bait. Don't be surprised when you

need to keep him, this creature with spiracles that claims

not to know you. Bag and freeze him. Give him a gentle


second death, slow his panic to dull flaps. Help him relax

enough for saving. This is another immortality, you can say

as you pin and label him with careful ink. This is the kind

of cruel others will understand. You want him whole again,


not like his first death when police found him and thought

he was moving, how he looked dressed for the night before

flies rose from his body, holding the shape of him midair,

a shadow with a thousand wings, and then a prayer.



How to Sugar for the Atlas originally appeared in 32 Poems. Read our interview with Traci Brimhall here and our review of Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod here.





Traci Brimhall is the author of Saudade (Copper Canyon Press), Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton), winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in The Believer, Best American Poetry (2013 and 2014), The Nation, The New Yorker, Orion, Ploughshares, and Poetry. She has received fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the National Endowment for the Arts. She’s an associate professor of Creative Writing at Kansas State University and lives in Manhattan, Kansas.


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