some love notes on ableism

Natalie E. Illum
Content Warnings
"Most first dates tell me I am not..."
Dec 24, 2020 9:48 PM

Most first dates tell me I am not

disabled, or they don’t see me

as "handicapped."

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

to use.

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.