Abecedarian on Shame


A mushroom quietly throbs with poison. I
bloat full of lies. Spurred by my
capacity for ruin, I insulted my brother
during the brief visit home, got too drunk in the
expensive restaurant while my mother’s worry
fermented. When confronted with my lack of
gentleness, I blame birth control or the moon, but
haunted by the palpitations of a mouse stuck
in glue, I knew atonement was beyond my trapping.
Just months ago I shaved all my fur then
knelt naked in front of not-you, have
laid in unfamiliar beds, squeak becoming purr,
metamorphosing into whatever kind of
nocturnal creature strangers desire. I keep
offering the soft meat of myself to
people I meet on the internet, save the stinging
quills for those who love me. I don’t know how to
reassemble myself into the kind of animal who
sniffs her way home every time. Somewhere,
there is a version of me whose instinct is to
tell the truth. She has no reason to
unravel in the doctor’s office, no sudden fits of
viciousness and rage. She does the right thing even
when no one is looking. I envy her timeline, the
x-axis aligned. Somehow I grow more twisted, each
year eluding guilt with skill. It’s easiest to pluck
zinnias if you don’t look them in the face.

Natasha Rao

—3rd Place Winner of the 2020 Sappho Prize—

“I admire the form of this poem, as I find Abecedarians hard to write. Natasha Rao’s work deftly uses the form in a natural and organic way, shifting between imagery and narrative. The final image of the zinnia is stunning.” — Guest Judge, Victoria Chang

Natasha Rao holds a BA from Brown University and an MFA from NYU, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She has received support from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Narrative, The Offing, Rattle, and The Margins, and she was a finalist in Narrative’s 30 Below Contest. She currently serves as co-managing editor of American Chordata and lives in Brooklyn.