Natalie Giarratano

Second-Hand Blues
After Nick Cave’s Soundsuits Exhibit: “Sojourns” (Denver Art Museum)

And when is it? When do we need
these words the most? When bodies loom
so large that we must squint
at their buttoning up. Holy Mother of God.
When we don’t hear one another
because we’re too busy shaking
our abacus faces like maracas: chicka chicka.
When the boom of what a woman feels
is an orbit of metal toy tops and globes;
when a little girl laughs and points
at this suit of sock monkeys—tails pointing
and curling in ways she recognizes. When we flat out
ignore the rainbowed shag that shimmies
long like prairie grass: a storm’s a comin’.
When we’re all just second-hand costumes, heavy
with skin oils and finger smudges. We couldn’t
take them off if we wanted to.

News Story Notes on the Iraqi Undertaker

He’s no longer a perfume salesman.

His hands are busy washing sixty bodies a day—twice the usual amount.

They come to him bludgeoned and bullet-ridden.

The soapy water comes to him in bottles in a cardboard box.

Not enough bundles of white shrouds.

The children want to play at being ghosts.

He’s been taught that, when burnt, the body should be cleansed with sand.

He scrubs the wounds and can hear the scream from inside of himself over the moans of the weeping mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children and wives and husbands.

If they come to him in pieces, he puts them back together.

They had no chance in this untrained war.

Even grief is a booby-trap.

​Originally from small-town Southeast Texas, Natalie Giarratano received her Ph.D. in creative writing from Western Michigan University. She is the author of Big Thicket Blues (Sundress Publications, 2017) and Leaving Clean (Briery Creek Press, 2013), winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Sakura Review, Beltway PoetryTupelo Quarterly, Tinderbox, and TYPO, among others. She edits and lives near the foothills of Northern Colorado; some of her work is available at