Most first dates tell me I am not
disabled, or they don’t see me
I try not to twitch, resist
the urge to see them as
naive. I add their imploring
to the paper cranes I've made
from old lovers' quotes, proving
I am not
broken when naked, or
ugly when standing, or
different. How I should believe
in their fiction, saccharin and easy.
If only I could unspasm my throat.
Maybe I want to believe
that they won’t miss
my legs curling around
the small of their back
when they are just trying
to fit themselves inside of me,
whispering normal, normal.
That they will not care
if we never dance the samba
in a sweaty night club.
That their eyes do not crumble like the Berlin Wall
when I fall down. Later,
they’ll insist they fall in love
with the bruising every time
they experience it.
But I know your compliments are just soft lies
your mother taught you. Some offhand lesson
on acceptance she hoped you wouldn’t need
Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She is a recipient of 2 Poetry Fellowships from the DC Arts Commission, a former Jenny McKean Moore Fellow and a nonfiction editor for The Deaf Poets Society Literary Journal. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, an LGBTQA 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. She is currently a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Natalie has an MFA in Creative Writing from American University and is a Teaching Artist for Poetry Out Loud. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, and as one half of All Her Muses. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes.