Natalie E. Illum
ART: Toti O'Brien
AN OLD MAN TAKES ME HUNTING
The Roar: a season when stags grow greater than they are. Throats fatten beneath bulging
beards. oh the smell of beast. they piss and roll in their own urine. fuck themselves,
rumble in cum. If it’s possible for words to imitate sounds then reek becomes an echo for
the way stags smell. Sweet carrion scent. There is a roar for every feeling.
Possessiveness: a great tumbling of thunder choking its way past esophagus, gargling on
tongue. Defense: a click, an alien’s vocal gesticulation.
If reek is a word that sounds the way stags smell, then male becomes a word that devours
an aura. When I say he reeks what I am really saying is: so heavy. so male. so rank.
He pops his head through the bush, misshapen antler. terrified eyes. a shot to the neck.
Sonic severing. torn threads whipping backwards and splitting ears. We come to him, still
twitching, legs flailing like a dreaming dog. this hunter. this man. he tells me not to
worry. nerves in the neck extend physicality of life long after animation has departed. But
as I watch his eyes water and piss trickle between his legs I think—this creature does not
look dead. This hunter says: sit back. enjoy it.
We set to slicing off his head. at the joint so there is no sound of crunching bone. yet
blood still flows and spurts like some 80’s horror film. like a fountain. like a joke. It is
my job to carry the skull up the hill. everywhere I feel watched. At the top, I raise his
bearded, dismembered head as my flag.
Overlooking sunset and fog the old man wants to take my picture. he asks me to pose. he
brought his own camera. especially for this. I don’t want to, I say. I only want to exist in
places I can control. And yet. I still feel myself flashed. come on, you’re beautiful. since
when has a picture hurt a woman like you? I don’t move. I believe I can’t take myself back.
An old man and a young woman walk into the woods intent to kill something.
An old man and a young woman walk into the woods and something dies.
I wish I didn’t need a man
to teach me to cradle metal in my arms
to put his lips to my ear
and say “shoot”
COME TO GROUND
None of the women has ever seen red figs before,
heavy on the tree like moon drag, like monsoon
yet the falling does not surprise them —
glad shrug of a fullness fed up with bough,
with skin. Orbs split on the pavestones,
neck flesh pale and unprotected
as if they have tied their coats around their waists
in defiance of the elements — rain. Sun.
Predators that test their defenses. So many things
they could have been had they delivered themselves
into hands — jam or galette. Still life with banquet.
Riotous bell, heart full of bees, everything
comes to ground. The women fall to their knees,
bend like roots that know the taste of bruise,
of wild wine.
WHITE IS MY LEAST FAVORITE COLOR
It appears in a recurring bad dream that started when I was a little girl.
I thought the rabbits with red eyes were evil, because the rabbits with red eyes were usually the rabbits with white hair.
White combined with small circles of red reminded me of a hospital with a fake
sterile smell to cover the blood.
White refrigerator filled with white needles. White bedding. White cage.
Inside the recurring dream, a white van was coming to abduct me. I was hiding in the kitchen behind the white garbage can. I was praying I couldn't be seen through any window view. The white van slowly drove back and forth, awaiting the right moment.
I didn't deserve to live because I was too scared to scream and too weak to run away.
I will be taught what I deserve.
I will be caught and tossed in the back of the white van, filled with syringes and a cage of shaking red eyed rabbits.
I will find out it isn't the rabbits that are evil. A red eye will be cut out and flung at me. The rabbit with one eye will be thrown away and replaced with another rabbit. The rabbits are being tortured or being tested. The rabbits are being syringed with new ingredients to change their entire color to match their eyes.
The bleeding rabbits are flung against the back door inside the white van. The man in the van says they are cosmetics. He holds a syringe over my head and says my neck is a cosmetic. I remember when my grandpa laughed about snapping a rabbit's neck.
NOTES ON TRAUMA FROM AN EXPERIENCED THERAPIST
The way he touched you,
it was a long con. It was two
minutes, maybe three, out of a whole
lifetime, but that math
is deceptive. It was
a lifetime tightly rolled
into itself and he left
it in a place only unsafe men
have been, one end of it
and unbound. It’s that unbound
end that binds you.
Some moments you will feel
it there, steadily
unrolling with the normal movements
of your slowly unwinding body.
Natalie E. Illum
CURIOUS GEORGE CAN'T SWIM: A PANTOUM
A swimming pool hotter than bathwater.
Chlorine haze. My mother along the edge
encouraging me, with my Curious George, to swim.
Though I liked the Man with the Yellow Hat better.
Chlorine hazy and my mother at the edge.
Swim teacher says my legs are missing,
though I liked the Man with the Yellow Hat better.
Her hands in the air like a shark fin.
Swim teacher says kick harder.
Doggie paddle and back float are too easy.
I watch for her like a shark fin.
Her muscles slice easily through the water.
Doggie paddle is the easiest, but
you would never survive the high dive.
Teacher’s muscles slicing easily
as you cramp, spasm and sink.
You would never survive the high dive,
or a shark attack. Try to find a ladder
as you cramp, spasm and sink.
Forget ever wearing a bikini.
Or climbing a ladder. The shark attacks,
encouraging me, like a monkey, to swim.
Forget the beauty of bikinis in open water.
Better to hide you in bathtubs.
Dulcinea, Legend, and Pinkerton are assemblages of wood and found objects. They reflect on feminine identity as it is shaped and mis-shaped by myths of beauty. They might convey the inherent fragility of such myths, their break-ability, their aspects of inhumanity, the suffering they imply. Also, the fundamental innocence of those sacrificed in their name.
In the movie montage I get fit very quickly. First I struggle to complete three pushups and collapse on the floor, then I blend a smoothie, then I run very comically on a sidewalk, then I do a full set of pushups, then I outrun the thin people on the sidewalk, then I am doing push-ups with one arm, then my body takes flight like an endangered bird and I am farting fireworks across snowy mountain peaks, and my body sprouts with tofu pods and many varieties of moss, I am a strong slender moss-coated stem moving quickly in the rain, I drink up the rain like protein shakes and cannonball into the nearest reflective surface: a pond where a calcified Narcissus guards still the edge, so I kiss his silent lips and drape my sports bra across his shoulders, and I am now a water-lily. No one will find me here. If I turn to the side, I disappear.
The end of Spring is already written.
It rains the whole day after you leave.
Each branch grows a small blossom,
the gifts of a lunar eclipse. A loud fog
follows me into my apartment
knocking the doors not open
and not closed, just knocking until
it finally condenses me. I am sick
of hunting you through the wind
without a pistol in my holster.
I need to talk to somebody about this
clanking in my chest and these spikes
in my hands. Something must be wrong
with me. Everything has been feeling
strangely familiar. How should I explain
the bloods on my finger to you?
I am suffocating phantoms. I wait four
months to take photos of the bruises
from last night. I dream of a woman
who instead of making love, asks me
to write tener over her body. Black inks
on pale skin. The stone rolls away.
WE'RE TOLD TO SMILE
because this is what women do: we smile
through the insults, through the well I thought
you wouldn’t mind, through the paraphrasing
of what we just said because clearly it makes
more sense coming from a deeper voice.
We smile through the missed promotions
and the limited funding. We smile through
being called Mrs. when Dr. is correct.
We smile through getting called honey
and sugar and baby. We smile through
it was only a joke and don’t take everything
so serious. We smile through judgements
on our breasts, our hips, our legs, our ass.
We smile through the accidental touches,
the well-intended suggestions, the good-
natured flirting. We smile through your leg
pressing against ours on trains, on buses.
We smile because we’re making a big deal
out of nothing. We smile because if we didn’t
our teeth might get knocked out, our throats
crushed – a reminder of all the things
we have to smile about.
HOW TO TURN YOURSELF INTO A GHOST
Pretend that you didn’t hear that.
Act as though it never happened.
Eat with them the next day,
laugh at their misplaced jokes, bite
the wound digging into your mouth.
Hold your breath
and see how long it takes
before someone notices your chest
Someone will ask you
why is it that you keep bringing this up,
why are you marinating in grave soil,
are you looking for some sort of handout.
Though there’s afterlife money that you never received,
in a robbed bank, the bank that your family housed
their American dreams and mythologies.
Someone will ask you, in this land
of flourishing futures and opportunities,
what is it that holds you back?
Ask them if they see you.
Hold up your arm and let the holes
in your body shine like stars finding shelter
in a new sky, your black an entire galaxy
of their unseeing. Open your mouth,
reveal the blood and moons and words,
so many words, milky-waying out of you.
Watch closely. See if they move forward, away,
or don’t move at all.
You’ll hope they’ll see
beyond the ghost movies, Halloween
costumes, myths passed around their dinner tables.
You might not find out in that moment,
but movement is better than no movement.
that they weren’t aware
that anything had happened at all.
Issue 36 Contributors
Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.
For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal. For joy, she’s an associate poetry editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and Program Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia Journal, Rappahannock Review, The Humanist, and elsewhere.
The poet Ed Roberson told Sammie Downing, “You only have one life and you only have one work.” Advice she's taken to heart–she's filed taxes in 7 U.S. States, and worked on cattle and deer station in the depths of New Zealand. Find her fiction at Entropy Mag, her poetry at Yes Poetry and 3amMagazine, and her blog at: www.herearelions.org.
Angele Ellis's latest book is a slightly bloody Valentine to her adopted city--Under the Kaufmann's Clock: Fiction, Poems, and Photographs of Pittsburgh, with photos by Rebecca Clever (Six Gallery Press, 2016). She also is the author of Spared (A Main Street Rag Editors' Choice Chapbook, 2011), and Arab on Radar (Six Gallery, 2007), whose poems won her an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. A contributing editor to Al Jadid: A Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts, Angele resides in the neighborhood of F/friendship.
Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She was a founded board member of the mothertongue, a DC women's open mic and poetry organization that lasted 15 years. She is currently a Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Fellow, an instructor for Poetry Out Loud, and the recipient of 2017 Artist Grant from the DCCAH. Once upon a time, she was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion and toured the country with some famous people leading creative workshops and performing poems. Natalie has been featured in various anthologies, as well as in The Huffington Post, Salon Magazine and on NPR's Snap Judgment. In addition to writing, she enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox and as one half of All Her Muses, her musical project.
Dynas Johnson is an English major at Temple University and a contributing editor for Hyphen, Temple's undergraduate literary magazine. Two of her poems are forthcoming in Sooth Swarm Journal and Ghost Proposal. When she is not writing, she can be found on Instagram @dynasaur0 volunteering at the Eastern Service Workers Association, studying, or looking for new bubble tea places.
Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press, forthcoming) and is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Legendary, Germ Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Brain Mill Press, Haunted Waters Press, and others. She loves nail polish, wine, and tattoos. Read her blog: www.wordperv.com, follow her on twitter:@wordperv, or find her on facebook: www.facebook.com/poetry.CourtneyLeBlanc.
Toti O'Brien mixed media have been exhibited in group and solo shows, in Europe and the US, since 1995. She has illustrated several children books and two memoirs. Her artwork has most recently appeared in Brain of Forgetting, Riddled With Arrows, Longridge Review,and Scryptic.
Benjamin Pine is a medical student in New York City, who enjoys the fear and relief that comes with writing poetry. He's been previously published in BMC Systems Biology, a literary journal only in the most abstract sense.
Laura Ring's poetry has appeared in Stirring, Yellow Chair Review, and Juked, among other places. She grew up in Vermont, in the shade of Mount Hunger, and now lives somewhere between skyscraper and shoreline on the South Side of Chicago.
Elizabeth Theriot grew up in Louisiana and earned her undergraduate degree from University of New Orleans. She currently lives in Tuscaloosa, where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Elizabeth works with the Black Warrior Review as an Assistant Editor in poetry and nonfiction, and teaches freshman composition. Her other publications can be found online in Tinderbox, Requited, Pretty Owl, and Alyss, and in print in the Mississippi Review.