Natalie Illum


Listen to the audio version.

Men are always tackling things.
I don't understand how they crush
bones for the touchdown, break
ribs for the goal. I've never stolen
a base, or dove into the spectators

for the win. Some men keep score
by the number of concussions
they can survive, with

black eyes and bruised collarbones;
all for the trophy. Me,
I've never fallen for

the sport of it, or ruined joints
out of spite for the referee.

I am on the sidelines, watching them
disable themselves, body part
by body part.

For the locker room boasting.
For the dance of their coaches'
approvals. They don't accept

comas or wheelchairs. Cannot
imagine titanium screws, not
until they become them
with only 10 seconds left before

Half the time, I am wishing
I could be their cheerleader;
naive and wanting nothing

more than to be Captain. A girl
who stands high on that pyramid;
no fear of falling.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

People say about premature babies
what they do of shark attacks:
it's highly unlikely you will live.

Except when you do.
One of us is a Survivor
and the otheran Inspiration!
Cheer for one, then cry
for the other.

Both born out of fear
of monsters.

* * *


Listen to the audio version.

I am not telling the truth.                                                                         It is far easier to tell of
                                                                                                                 the way a heart feels
when scraped over
a bedroom radiator as it clanks

against the freezing air                                                                                            than to admit
I turn your collarbone into life raft.
                                                                                                                                 I swallow
Your promises into pebbles

to become what grounds you, so you never have to feel
like leaving.

I am not one to go turning my jaw into clay for your fingertips;
grow my hair out for                                                                                               the pulling.
                                                                                                                                 I didn't let
the camera catch me smiling, barely
showed my teeth
                                                                                                                                 until you.

When winter invaded, you made sure my ears were ready for                               the chilling.

Falling in love with you is the avalanche that keeps                                               burying me.
                                                                                                                                 You are frozen into every cell.

How can I write about the way I blush steady at                                       the fever?
                                                                                                                   your pulsing. How

can I scream of buckling?                                                                                        my voice
                                                                                                                                 is still
                                                                                                                                 the door key

you never returned.

*Because the line spacing on "Cell" may show up differently in different browsers, an alternate version for viewing or printing can be viewed here.


Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She is a 2017 Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Fellow, and a recipient of an 2017 Artists Grant from the DC Arts Commission, as well as a nonfiction editor of The Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, a women's open mic that lasted 15 years. She competed on the National Poetry Slam circuit and was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications, and on NPR's Snap Judgement. Natalie has an MFA in creative writing from American University, and teaches workshops across the country.