The Translations by Natalie Giarratano



All the overpriced concert tickets
     in the world, all the maternal warnings
of my childhood not to wear those 1970s
     headphones: it might worsen
the nerve
                            damage, violence done
but not disabled)
                            by a meningitis
that swept into my body like a song sweeps

through a movie scene, somehow making it more
     meaningful. Without the disease, I would just
be white, almost translucent. I wouldn’t be able to
     reflect back at the sun
that there’s
            something about me,
                                        too. That the streets
I live on
                            have buried musical bones, whose percussion
up against the asphalt keeps me from a quiet life in my head

that’s never been anything but a 6th Street, where
     I slide along the sides of stages holding a stranger’s
hand, and he’s the one because the bass
     vibrates my entire body until it tingles and doesn’t
resemble my body
                            at all but feels
                                                        as though I’ve slid on
someone else’s skin

                            as simply as putting on a dress—
maybe a shimmy over my hips.





I’m singing but it’s someone else’s voice.
     This happens in the shower, in the car, in
conversation. Some people wear masks; I wear
     songs. They can hang in my throat for days
or weeks, whole
                            albums looping in my mouth
                                                        until they’ve been
assigned memories.
                            Four-minute photographs. Even
regular noises can pass for music if I let them.

And sometimes spoken words are so muffled
     I must imagine they are part of a song.
Someone’s humming in my good
     ear, something about being healed. But I
kind of enjoy
                            not understanding what everyone
                                                        is saying all the time,
so maybe don’t bother
            taking me to a witch doctor or a priest
who thinks that a sweaty hand and a prayer can help

me hear everything. I thought I’d be sick from receiving
     holy water that who knows how many people had dipped
their fingers in. And all those wheelchairs squealing, voices
     muffling into each other, an old man clearing
and clearing
                            and clearing his throat—
                                                        they had to become
music for me to make it through.





So many voices inside me that haven’t even
     been heard yet. Outlets with mouths
open, ready themselves for me to stick
     wet fingers into them, to welcome the shock
of not having to be
            me for a while. And it’s really
                                    okay that I absorbed
those headphones all their years
                            because the way I hear hasn’t changed—
I listen with my whole body to the songs beating me

awake from dreams with their drums, their sliding
     notes, their off-keys, their Dear Prudences,
their fade-outs like tangles with a wasp.
     The way the slow ones make me cry no matter what
the lyrics are telling me.
            The way the right beat
                                                        can even make a Baptist
find the dance floor
            because music is the finger-
wagging Lord, the story-telling Jesus, and most of all,

the Judas that kisses the cheek softly before metal-mouthing
     to the people who are sure they already knew
all there is to know. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t
     listen to music. Even the fully deaf can appreciate the
vibrations, pulses
                            where words and sound
                                                        germinate for the rest of us.
What I meant to say was:
            don’t trust anyone who cannot allow music
to suck them deep, the way I’ve always wanted some god to
     suck me into that kind of epic darkness, the kind with designs,
the kind in which
                            the blood of ancient
                                                        banjoing fingers
flows from strings,
            where even fibers of muscles are
capable of creating sound. But I can’t play or at least

try hard enough. All I can do is open my mouth
     and sing to a heaven I don’t believe in anymore,
but I do believe
            in other things. Dear
all I’ve never
                                heard, music
                                                            I’m maybe addressing:
don’t you want to sing more than my sins?



Originally from small-town Southeast Texas, Natalie Giarratano’s first collection of poems, Leaving Clean, won the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry and was published in June 2013 by Briery Creek Press. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Gulf Stream: Poems of the Gulf Coast, Isthmus Review, American Literary Review, TYPO, Laurel Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. D.A. Powell selected her work for inclusion in the 2011 edition of Best New Poets, and she won the 2011 Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from Southern California Review. She co-edits Pilot Light, an online journal of 21st century poetics and criticism, teaches writing at American University, and lives in Northern Virginia with her partner, Zach Green, and their pup, Miles.