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.