what this hotel room wants

No latch. Amends. A worst case. A solstice. Someone to wade waist-deep
in its wallpaper & feel the trembling hand of god. To know why children
scream when they come here, fears unpadded in the fold-down box. A
break from the windows vending darkness. Someone to set the thermostat
to deadly. Someone wasted at 3AM to smudge the bloodsong of
mosquitos on the wall. No one sick in the cockpit bathroom. To inspect. To
insult. Someone to take notice. Fingernails to follow the shallows of resin in
the upscale headboard, thumbs to pick bubbles of polish free from
insomnia like they’d skin everything. To survive on less of you. Strain on the
guyropes of the quilt. Linoleum arced with prayer & carbon, habits of scalp
to grey the pillow. Givens. A bootprint to stove in the fuselage of the hollow
fridge. To be a fort. Or an orchard. To swallow outer darkness, mirror by
mirror. Anything beautiful to hang in its closet. Someone to wield the
cutlery as if they cared what dangled off the end. Someone to know the
grey biographical carpet in its particulate loneliness, facedown fibres
earthed by a fingertip driven through their midnight weft. Someone to be
pierced. Predictions of meaningful rainfall. Someone to accost. Someone to
straighten the roots of the curtains, balance the stump of the scuffed clay
lamp. Someone to laugh in the brackish sink. Light to windmill in long-ago
hair, a half-blonde dance of blinded lovers. Later checkouts, shellacked to
the thighs. Someone to whisper to its interior. Something to seem
motherfucking primordial, a cry like that kid in its padded trap, shaking its
cot & launching every shit-curdled octave it’s got straight from blood at
the centre. No one to behave. Holy scars on paper napkins. Or a bridge or a
dancehall or a furnace or an airstrip. To place bets. To not be a temple to
wasps. Corsages of sweat in its soft furnishings. Someone to stay.
Someone to own. Foreclosure on footsteps departing on carpet. Someone
to tell it what the joke is. The ceiling fan to travel for centuries.

author photo of Tracey Slaughter photographer credit to Joel Hinton

Tracey Slaughter's latest works are the short story collection Devil's Trumpet (Te Herenga Waka University Press, 2021) and the poetry collection Conventional Weapons  (THWUP, 2019). Her work has won numerous national and international awards, including the 2023 Manchester Poetry Prize, the 2020 Fish Short Story Prize, and the 2014 Bridport Prize. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Waikato, where she edits the journals Poetry Aotearoa and Mayhem. A new poetry collection, containing her Manchester Award winning 'opioid sonatas' is forthcoming soon from THWUP.  

Tracey comments: ‘Once I checked into a mid-range hotel room carrying my infant son and he reacted to its ordinary three-star architecture with instant violence. His screams were scalp-splitting, echoed for storeys. Whatever it was about that pale tourist tenement, he could not be consoled. His tantrum was bloodred, epistemological. I paced in the pitch of it, and felt the night filter to infinity. It ended with me behind the wheel, gliding a half-witnessed gridwork of streets, indicators flicking to a sequence of three AM nowheres, his screams slowly quelled by the motoric hum. We circled the town in a kind of shared coma. I didn’t dare take him back to the room again.  

‘Is any check-in ever truly clean? It felt like the history of the whole room tunneled through his cries, all its travellers joined in chorus. The voice of it lingered, and surfaced in this poem years later, in a section (from a forthcoming book) titled "psychopathology of the small hotel." It came out in a block as thick as the complex I remember from that night, a cold tableau of chants, statements building in a room enraged by its own vacancy.’ 


​Poem source details >



Tracey Slaughter's Te Herenga Waka University Press author page


Photographer credit: Joel Hinton