Natalie E. Illum

close up of photo of a cannon

Photo by FRANKYDEE on


The disabled girl takes one step forward, falls back.
Shrapnel forms in utero; limbs already invaded. Mother
says special. Mother says fight. Words as artillery.
Crutches like/as armor. But similes do not save
what’s under siege. Disabled girl knows fashion

isn’t distraction enough. Stare as you two-step forward,
fall back. Bullet, then dress your own flesh wounds.
Disabled girl says cleavage will not keep 
your enemy closer; make them think
you are a woman, capable of leadership.
Or dancing. Disabled girl takes one step forward.

Falls back onto prescriptions that do not advance.
Does not win, but hunts an army of hemorrhages
she cannot see. Synapses fire at the dead matter of her
cells as casualty. The premature body like/as collateral damage.
My mother says remember what does not kill us, makes us.

First appeared in Whale Road Review (Issue 12, Fall 2018). Reprinted by permission of the author.

Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington, DC.  She is a two-time recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and a former Jenny McKean Moore Fellow. She is also a non-fiction editor for the Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She has been published in many journals and anthologies and was featured on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Natalie has an MFA from American University and occasionally teaches writing and performance workshops to whomever wants them. She loves Tori Amos, whiskey and giraffes.