How to disable a girl, an Erasure

after Mary Karr’s The Burning Girl

          went back and forth
                                      burning. The tonic took the ruby sun.

>                        we sprawled along.
                                      We breathed alongside

          the thinnest
          arms                     all scarred

                                      with marks she’d made herself —

          She sat in flames
                                      impolite. Later, we’d all think

                                      unmoving. Devouring
          light. She
          didn’t. She
                                      touched no aspect of ourselves. I

                                      the awkward guest.
                                      An almost ghost. Her mother,
          the edges of herself; smudging.

                                      Having seen that I testify:

          it was ocean endless. She emptied herself
                                      into that blazing

                                      with all her slender.

          Dwindling.           Her father the devoted king burned
                                      as we all watched. I was

          the Friend                                          insisting
                                                                   for years.

          Doctors, I forced her                        sadness

          I said

          that her arms were twigs   scissored
          until                                                  she slid.

                                                                   We watched
          she was

                                                    gone.                                                 She was the tower
                                                                   We all burned.


          You strike through/I semi-colon/ I edge/You 35,000 feet/I runway/
          The trouble/with runways/ is (one of us)/always leaving/

          I pills/You shotgun/You cartographer brain/I missing book/ The trouble
          with poetry is (that you never know how) the readers will take it/

          I pacemaker/You shocked heart/Some say (I am not) a cardiologist/You bipolar/
          I breakdowns/You childhood/trauma/I childhood trauma/Some say

           (I should have more) self-worth/You brilliant/I brilliant/You checkmate/
          I pawn/You mistrust/I mistress/You chrysalis/You always becoming/

          (you said) I clock/always waiting/for its maker/(I dream you) home/
          You marathon runner/I stopwatch/I stop/You come (inside now)/ I

          secret cavity/I (definition of) longing/You syntax (I memorize)/You drifting/
          I pulse/You barometric pressure/I migraine (disorder)/I host/ You disease/

          You slight of hand/I awe/I awe/I freefalling (you cliff)/You sky (that sees)
          I’m bleeding/You hemorrhage/I’m the band-aid/(quick fix)/

Natalie E. Illum is a poet, disability activist and singer living in Washington DC. She was a founded board member of mothertongue, an LGBTQA open mic that lasted 15 years. She is currently a Best New Poets, Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net nominee. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whiskey and giraffes.