Two poems

by Natalie E. Illum

Disabled Ars Poetica

Writing a poem is

building a skyscraper; words
that need to load bare, to scale.

The poem always has windows,
but also a bunker, a shelter-in-place, a gas mask.
Hopefully, a cafeteria. Maybe I’ll find a message

in the oldest office of my memory, discover something
about my body in the elevator shaft.  Maybe not.

When I write, I choose one line to be the strongest beam.
The others are all scaffolding; the punctuation marks
become super glue and we’ll say anything to keep

that one image from plummet.
That scaffolding makes it harder
to jump, but it’s not impossible.
Poetry is

both janitor and CEO; the analyst
and the assistant, who is a secret
polyglot,

who often won’t tell you how to translate
what you found carved into the original
blueprint of what you’ve been
trying to say.  Which is:

my father was a structural engineer.
He built the machines that built
the joints that held the windows

of skyscrapers. He never saw
me read a poem. As far as
I know, he hated poetry.

He didn’t realize all the math
in it.  How I puzzle and divide
images to make something
equal beautiful.

How I multiple
my hurts into algebra
and carry the 1

childhood I have
so that it adds up
to something positive;
or at least a molecule

my father would recognize,
like Aluminum. Maybe then
I could prove

how the right line break
can hold a person up
like a building.

I once saw a skyscraper
leveled by dynamite.
I wore safety goggles

but I didn’t feel safe
from that earthquake
of steal and glass.

All that concrete melted. Meant
nothing in that moment, but I saw
the whole thing crumble and give in
to itself.

Poetry is such a vulnerable building,
and aren’t we poets all architects
of something that falls?

If you are disabled and there is a bomb cyclone, you

don’t relish snow days.
Don’t sled down the unplowed streets.

Maybe you don’t eat anything
other than panic attacks.

If you are disabled and there is a blizzard, or

two inches, the snow berm will block
the curb cuts. The curb cuts are yours,
but the refreeze unfreeze refreeze doesn’t

care about the width of your wheelchair,
about how even the slush and salt
can crash you.

If you are disabled, people will help
you, whether you consent or not,
regardless of the season.

You know cyclones, how the lack
in pressure and consciousness
drops and spins you

from elevator to alternative route
to broken lift to abandon.
Regardless of the season.

Look out the window.
See their joy crystalize
as they spin around
and throw things

without caring if you’re warm.


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 a 2017 Artists Grant from the DCCAH, as well as an instructor for Poetry Out Loud. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, a DC women’s open mic that lasted 15 years. She competed on the National Poetry Slam circuit for many years 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. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, on her website, and as one-half of All Her Muses, her music project. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes.
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2 thoughts on “Two poems

  1. Pingback: #FeatureFriday – Natalie E Illum – Ink In Thirds

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