washington, dc

31 october 2008


When sleepwalking tongues slip
Studio, works-in-progress   
At the LAVA Studio, Part 1

About Natalie E. Illum



When sleepwalking tongues slip

after Arden

We live in our heads,
evict our hearts in favor
of an abstract pumping.
We call the weakness in our backs
scenes from a film noir. You’ll never feel
I love you again. The words are black static
I won’t say. I believe
my brain is a random storm, warning
a lightening fever. My spine
a broken weather vein; my heart
a kite string with an iron key
dangling; my body is
a hypothesis that failed. Your brain is
a pile of mismatched socks,
a cluster of sonnets
that will be published
When you have finally stopped
the bees that swarm your blood,
the game of marbles that ricochets
off your warm skull until
you can only dream of
suicide. I lay beside you, beg
my hands to be like honey
or magnets, anything
to divert or draw out

the chokehold of our toxic
childhoods. We swallow
the obvious memory in favor
of our bodies’ violent pulsing.
Most nights,
we tumble in the atrophy
of dreaming. I chase after
lost conversations. You erase
bones, resurrect demons

with every sunrise. You show me
the heatstroke. I give you
the ore of my palm,
a kiss that will protect

neither of us.



Studio, works-in-progress

What is the color of shattering?
Her skin has more hospital
bracelets and punctures than tattoos

now. As we sit overwhelmed
in this bright gallery of creative,
our breathing needs a respirator.
People stare. I spill water and wine
repeatedly. My acrobat friend steadies
my hand and wipes up the mess
of pulpy words, no longer readable.
We manage to spare

the oil paintings. I trip over the podium
instead of the sculpture of two women
fucking. I joke about balance and highway
accidents. My poet friend steadies
my hips and alludes to more

hotel rooms. I perform in
a quiet spiral of this is the last
time, the last time. time and

the applause drowns out
my compulsive scheduling,
my spastic need to jump

Just leave me here.
I'm busy discovering
I have a delusional heart,
old chambers I've stretched
into a safety net

that's unraveling before
I can catch or close
the murmur.
I never mean to
see the world

in kaleidoscope, but somehow
the scenes still bleed
together until I am floating

in the jagged mosaic
of my own story
no one else will believe.

I've given up on finding
hands that will fuse me,
a lover that will stay
long enough to find

the shards I cannot reach
alone. I barely know
what love is, the weight
gestures carry.

Last night I saw pinwheels
made of bodies, acrobats
made of poems and torn
strength. This morning I felt

blisters from a trapeze
I gripped like my own lifeline,
whispering just hold on baby,
just hold on. hold on

for what or whom
I do not know.
I once called myself
healing and poet.
Now I choke on pain
and suicide. No, trusting

is not hard for me.
Loving you is easy.
All of you, easy to
love until the bones
in my hands break
the walls of your heart

into 10,000 maybes,
20 miracles
and 100 complex things

we will never completely
understand about each other.
Lately I'm relying more on
the way the sky looks
each second to predict
where I will sleep tonight
more than any conversation
I've replayed.

I am not running away. I'm paused
at the end of a marathon,
that moment where

the blood is a battle cry
and the scars tighten.
That moment right before
the heart threatens to

burst. Please, just let it.
I crawl from the stage begging.
The arms

are like resuscitation
before I can refuse.

She holds my pounding
fear, cracks into my broken
chest and says nothing

of the old hemorrhaging
there. We transfuse ink, trade
salt and oxygen to steady
our own spinning.

We say goodnight hoping
our paper bodies
won't crumble.




I wonder if
in my next life I will walk
with my feet instead
of my hands. If holding
these muscles rigid, these vowels flexed
is manna for the carbon
of me to rebuild. I wonder

how many lifetimes of falling,
of scribing, of trapeze medicine
it will take to unlock
the flying girl
inside of me, or is she
already whole in this
momentary flight?




Today, I won't search
for myself in horoscopes,
or fold my body into 100 paper cranes,
then call you to signal the transformation.
I won't predict how
you fill whole days without me.
I won't live inside the holes
of that story you told me
like a promise, left open. I'll sew
closure rather than manifest it.
It takes too long to count
through the mandalas, to recount
the threads of yesterday. I won't imagine
my happiest moments rest
on the "yes" of your proposals,
on the ease by which I love you.
Just for today, I won't tend
to the manuscript of words
between us. The hours of monologue
you've never heard because
I haven't come upon the perfect
prayer to bind
or release it: the card, rune or totem;
I need most to be without you.
Just for this moment, I won't measure
my exhales against your absence
or hold my breath to remember
what you wore the last time I saw you.
As though the color
of your shirt,
the angle of your smile
would tell me when
you are coming home.



At the LAVA STudio, Part 1

for Sarah East Johnson

What if we moved based on
how we felt, rather than how
we were taught to feel? If
we torn our skin off and revealed
the same hip flexors, the same
weak spine. We all start sprawled
on the ground, gill breathing, trading
water for air and somewhere along
that ocean chain, you were built
for flying and I to fall.
Or, that’s bullshit and there are 1,000
muscle movements we would trade
for peace of mind, for freedom
from resistance, from look
at how she moves,

from it’s never enough
so just move over for perfection. Except we are
perfect explorers of gravity, of oppression, of fear.
So I’ll give up
my crutches, my accessible audience seat and you’ll
give up control and we’ll build what we could have been
all along. The answers bob on the horizon. If we honor
the undertow, we will not drown. I can show you how
words tread water. Your back is an anchor I cannot lift
alone. Let’s unshroud the mystery. It’s just bodies evolving
over time. It’s just time asking us
to forgive ourselves, to move forward unencumbered
by the mirror.



is an activist, writer and federal employee. Natalie is a founding board member of mothertongue (www.mothertonguedc.org) and promotes independent writers, musicians and artists through 3Word Productions (www.3WordProductions.com). She also has an MFA in creative writing from American University and teaches poetry workshops in a variety of community venues. Her work is also included in Growing Up Girl (GirlChild Press, 2006) and Word Warriors: 35 Leaders of the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007), an anthology edited by Alix Olson. She recently finished collaborating with LAVA, an acrobatic troupe in Brooklyn, and perfected her skills at performing poetry upside down. Her previous self-published chapbooks Counterbalance and On Writers Block and Acrobats are available on Lulu Press. Natalie enjoys touring with her heroes: Bitch, Michelle Tea, Sini Anderson, Thea Hillman, Rose Polenzani, Gina Young, and Andrea Gibson, to name a few. She has an essay on living with a disability in the Winter issue of Kaleidoscope Magazine, and her poetry will be featured in an upcoming issue of Feminist Studies, a scholarly journal edited by Minnie Bruce Pratt. She hopes to complete her memoir Spastic as soon as she has enough courage to write something longer than a page and a half..