“shake us. we make terrible tambourines”
from “Out South” Nate Marshall
When the hurting comes,
don’t worry bout it, Lovely.
Part of the dying is finding
a new name for everything
gonna be alright,
A different song for the hills.
Lovely, shake terror.
I got a feeling I
feel a brother shake while
they sing it, someone is squalling,
Amen. Amen. Amen.
There were drums at the funeral,
they made us clap,
we had to eat,
there were babies
who didn’t know to cry and smiled
up at us.
There was a time we were
beaten, Lovely. When she beat us,
she beat us brave. Beat us so
the police don’t.
they do. They still
shake terrible, crack an awful sound,
bang on bodies, bodies drums,
no melody on the piano
just a plingplingpling, these terrible
The Trouble with Water
Memories limp back
like ripped tulips in an old dog’s mouth:
the moons rise in her thick nails,
the knife of her hip cuts
a dotted universe of cloth,
the lamp of her swims the dark hollows
my body could make.
Each of us cast a vibrating net
of hum against the cavern of the other,
each, the other body’s hammock for resting,
each, the other body’s latticework and sling.
The body never loses its taste
for the rock and lull of water.
How is she the one whose ear I called
a walnut inside my bitter husk of a hand?
Flat riot, your mouth
To say, your mouth is sewn up,
is not a metaphor for how
you don’t speak on want.
The lips pinch,
a drawstring pouch
pulled to frown and pucker.
Words are air, and air
is nothing at all.
Your tongue was never a city,
a flickering circuit, never radiant
with electricity snaking through fibers.
Whatever it was, your body is closed now,
a flat thing. No analogy for your teeth,
how they will be joined with wires,
for the grate drilled into your gums.
And after the rigor is massaged out of you,
glue, for your literal mouth.
A native of Gainesville, Florida, Natalie Graham earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Florida and Ph.D. in American Studies at Michigan State University. Her poems have appeared in Callaloo, New England Review, Valley Voices: A Literary Review, and Southern Humanities Review; and her articles have appeared in The Journal of Popular Culture and Transition. She is a Cave Canem fellow and associate professor of African American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Begin with a Failed Body, her first full-length collection of poems, won the 2016 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.