Natalie Richardson

of Oak Park, IL

Winner of the Louise Louis / Emily F. Bourne Student Award in 2012


In this room, a cat pecks
the shell of a cockroach
while a woman flags
herself from the 4th story
window over-
looking 63 and the Greek
produce stand with the swelled
watermelons and the thick-
fingered neighbor's son.
The woman's eyes bulge
like dimpled bellies
of fruit flies, each lash
a quivered wing.
Her brain withers. Roaches
scuttle blood-heavy inside.
She scuffs onto the fire
escape and pretends not to see
ground—rounded legs
dangling like fat
arms of moon.  

When I was twelve
and visiting Grandma,
my mother taught me
to remember roach
skin. It is a molded
kind of sweet, fruit too ripe
that's sprung maggots.
Grandma smells like this—
It is impossible to rid
your skin from reeking
once the bugs dig
in. They rustle into sleeping
ears, leech there. I am
afraid of their spindled
claws feathering my brain.
I hug her and feel
them lurch.

The apartment caves
in. Month-old dishes
squat heavy. Crawlers
and cats cave for food.
They go hungry
when she is like this—
flabby and limp
on the couch, skin rough
and netted from pillows
that jab her from sleeping.
She folds snake-like
next to yesterday's
and puckered—
a shed skin.

Once, on the phone,
my grandmother told
me she was dying.
What do you think it will
feel like? Her voice choked
on the line. I imagined
the chord preying on her
neck. I don't know,
I said, but all I could see
was her sprawled open
on the couch, flesh too
ripe and runny to hold,
roaches white and curdling
on her brain—gorging thick.


Dorothea Lasky on Natalie Richardson

I chose the winning Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award poem, "Gorge," for its gorgeous and grotesque imagery, its mastery of language, and its sophisticated use of the poem as form. I also chose it because it made me feel sad and cold and warm and happy all at the same time and because, as Emily Dickinson reminds us all great poems should, "as if the top of my head were taken off." In this amazing poem, the poet gives me such uneasy feelings about my own mortal destiny, with images of bulging eyes "like dimpled bellies," withering brains, skin that reeks of maggots, maggots whose claws feather brains, and an old and dying body, folding "snake-like," in a neverending process of shedding skin. Interspersed with these images is the speaker's relationship to a grandmother figure, who is a not sweet and loving family member, but a horrific reminder of the putrification of every earthly self. I think what made me love this poem so much is to think that this young poet is writing poems now and that there is a long long life ahead of him or her to keep writing. This is the kind of poetry we need in this bright, new century. I applaud this poet.

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