Photo of Dameien Nathaniel

Three Poems – Dameien Nathaniel

May Burials of December Bodies

“How does a cemetery control nature? How does a cemetery change the hand of God…?”

-Joseph Dispenza, president of the New York State Association of Cemeteries

I imagine you lying in that refrigerated cell,
locked away, zippered uncomfortably in your body bag,
The scent of embalming radiating from the vault
that is to be your home for the next six months.

I wonder if they kept you wearing your wedding attire
while you are put away like this season’s venison?
Or if you are as naked in this casket of catastrophe
as that time I accidentally walked in on you in the shower?

I know the grieving doesn’t end when your body
is laid to rest, but it would make it just a little easier
to know your gravemarker is telling the truth
instead of speculating about what it means to
die in December.

I don’t yet know that the day they actually bury you
is the same day your grandson will plant a garden
of pink roses in your memory, trying to help his mother
forget that her mother’s grave has yet to settle.

I don’t yet know what I think of your God, or of
the legislation they’ve been trying to pass for a decade
that would have allowed them to bury you
after a procession to the cemetery.

I do know that what I think doesn’t matter much
in the grand scheme of things. You are the first loss
of family that I have faced, the first time I have met
Death when I haven’t called for him.

I think what I think about all this is meaningless
when I can’t visit your grave because
our family has disowned me, has tried to carve
my deadname into the same gravestone as you,
has tried to bury me prematurely in the family plot.

I think that what they don’t seem to understand is that,
as the ground unfreezes for May burials of December bodies,
as the harshness softens enough to let grieving happen,
it also allows the pink roses to flourish.


We’re Going to the Store

My father loads me into the passenger seat
of his green Dodge conversion van
long before it was illegal
to put a six year old in the front seat.

He doesn’t bother to click my seat belt,
we are just going five minutes down the road
to the Stewart’s gas station for nothing.
If nothing actually meant as punishment.

At school we had learned how to safely handle scissors
so at home I had grabbed the first pair I could find
and cut my bangs as short as my little hands could.

Up until this point my mother had cut my hair
so I figured it couldn’t be too hard.
She never went as short as I wanted
because she wanted her girl to be pretty.

It wasn’t that hard.

My usually explosive father came home
to see the carnage of strands on the bathroom floor
and the explosion I had come to expect
didn’t come.

He just said we were going to the store.

I remember getting out of the van by myself
and stepping up onto the sidewalk.
A random man was passing by
on his way to the next parking spot
and he offered me a nonchalant
Nice hair, dude.

I don’t think my father heard
or the explosion would have come.
I am meant to be embarrassed,
that’s why we are here,
but my heart skipped its beating
and I realized what I had been missing.

The next day my mother cut my hair evenly–
tight to my scalp and as short as it was at my birth.
I still cradle that year’s school photo
and I continue to chase that high
of finally being seen for what
I’ve always known I’ve been


Again, Let Me Tell You What I Know About Breathing

After Hieu Minh Nguyen’s “Again, Let Me Tell You What I Know About Trust”

How easily your brain has kept your lungs inflating

and deflating to the same rhythm for 21 thousand days.

How there have been too many nights where that rhythm

ceased without your soul leaving– Reset–

Without your life ending. As I look into your eyes,

half closed and full of tears, I’m not sure if your soul is still here

or if you are just a conch shell now, waiting for your brain

to stop inhaling, waiting for that final sigh that sounds too much like

the ocean that indicates your life has ended. Tomorrow

I will think too much about breathing and force myself to exhale

before submersion. I will fight to inhale H2O because

I have always wanted to live with you in the ocean. The hospital

will hook me up to an IV and oxygen machine and though

I will not have achieved conch shell like you, I will look

just like you did on your deathbed–

Pale, wet, puff, hiss, eyes that can’t stay open

and feeling closer to you than I’ve ever been.


Originally from upstate New York, Dameien Nathaniel is a queer, trans, autistic poet from the Northeast U.S. They are currently pursuing their MFA in poetry from Arcadia University, with their work centering around themes of trauma, loss, mental health, and queer identity. Dameien can be found performing at open mics and slams throughout New England.