Natalie Graham

Terrible Tambourines 

               “shake us. we make terrible tambourines”  

                               from “Out South” Nate Marshall


                                           Jylian Gustlin

                                          Jylian Gustlin

When the hurting comes,

don’t worry bout it, Lovely.

Hurt fickle. 


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

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. 


But Mama,

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.