Natalie Giarratano

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, January 2017) and Leaving Clean, winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry (Briery Creek Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Sakura Review, Black Tongue Review, Beltway Poetry, Tupelo Quarterly, Tinderbox, and TYPO, among others. She’s a freelance editor and lives in Northern Colorado with her partner, their daughter, and pup.

If you would like to get in touch with Natalie, email her at

Natalie Giarratano
Big Thicket Blues Cover art by Karina Nöel Hean

Big Thicket Blues

Available for pre-order from Sundress Publications.

About Big Thicket Blues (January 2017, Sundress Publications):

Giarratano’s mature and stirring second book is drenched in Place — East Texas, the Thicket, the Pines the Pines, the bright and dark swelter of it all — immersed in knowing that Place is a deep geography — and that Place is a terrain shaped by histories and memory, an undergrowth of events and beliefs that wound, shame, haunt and sometimes painfully heal — a tangle of family faith and fear — Place is a skin worn beyond horizons and borders — is dragged with us everywhere we go — in these poems place is what is known and what is imagined — origin and destination —
~Mark Turcotte, author of Exploding Chippewas

Consider yourself warned: this intricately carved, seamlessly patchworked foray into a boiling machinery of heritage, sin and deliverance may haunt itself into your dreams. Big Thicket Blues is so crammed with music, so lucid and tangled, so lifted into sky past bramble and past the tinnitus of our ordinary pains that it delivers us into a brilliance all its own. Make sure you know how to listen to what could kill or cure you before you bring down the needle on Giarratano’s indelible groove—and remember: 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....
~Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio

Big Thicket Blues is a siren’s song. Giarratano understands the bewitching, seductive music of words, and while one reads each poem—poems of social justice, poems of domestic despair—the dangerous truth of them eludes you. Reader, spend time with these poems at your peril because the cutting truth lingers long after the music fades.
~TJ Jarrett, author of Zion

The poems in Natalie Giarratano’s Big Thicket Blues are shape-shifting, with speakers who probe the moments “when we and they / are so far apart,” terrorized by “unholy hands / that’d start a war or fill our throats with cement”—whether in Texas, or Terezin. Risk-taking Leadbelly homage, family reportage, and internal-music montage all represent here, to remind us of the many ephemeral bodies we share. And beneath them all, a seething: to “Light up from the inside so that the place burns.”
~Ailish Hopper, author of Dark~Sky Society

Leaving Clean

Leaving Clean

Request a signed copy directly from Natalie

About Leaving Clean (July 2013, Briery Creek Press):

“I understand bayous,” says Natalie Giarratano in Leaving Clean. This is not a poet who celebrates place—her Orange, Texas—she simply knows it, knows what happens there, how the trees are bracing themselves for the hurricane, knows the mired look of a car on its back at the side of a muddy woods, the names of boats that brought slaves into Texas. She speaks of dark things in a voice that is quiet, but it is not shy; it is not even peaceful. Maybe it’s subtlety I’m talking about (perceptive being one of its synonyms), a humor that’s dire but unassuming, an anger that sort of travels under the radar. And what other poet would think to give a voice to a pair of tennis shoes that, hanging from a telephone wire, instruct us on the nature of time? Only Natalie Giarratano, with her wary grace and her vision that’s finally, somehow, redemptive.
~Nancy Eimers

Natalie Giarratano’s debut volume Leaving Clean brings to light a brilliant poetry that knows that the heart must break if it is to heal, again and again. In poems that evoke all the complex pungencies of the Texas Bayou, a weird, wholly recognizable America rises, ever ready to turn its head on the past it both creates and neglects. These poems contend with the ubiquity of violence in the individual consciousness, as they argue, implicitly or explicitly, with a vengeful God that embodies the cruelties we would not understand about ourselves. And there is grace here, and a kind of humility that refuses to be modest, and a longing that extends into the backwards of time, in details rendered magically and lovingly enough that individual and collective shame is out-ted and transformed by poetry into a common, intimate language.
~William Olsen

In her stunning first book, Leaving Clean, Natalie Giarratano offers us an incisive look at a fallen world, cleansed neither of cruelty nor affection, of bitterness nor conflicted debt, what summons us to lines that, with a precision of wit and heartbreak, refuse the clean and easy answers. Again and again we find the spit of gods and fathers and the deep hunger of the traveler who longs to purge herself of such. There is no map to get us out of this place. Better yet, we have poems of fierce grace and difficult beauty, poems that plot escape but argue against it. In them we fall back to earth like love or some such gift of hard rain that dreams of nothing less.
~Bruce Bond

Leaving Clean is the debut of a new, original voice where the cartography of poet Natalie Giarratano’s inner visions turn themselves further inward, “the eye’s internal stare, / standing guard on the shore of her body / with lighthouse intensity,” interrogating the ruinous borders of memory where the poet dares her craft and gaze to take us. These poems refuse to look away and beg to be revisited over and over. You trust the power and vulnerability of this poet at once. In Leaving Clean, you will find a profound country unlike any other. Giarratano’s poems concern themselves with family, secrets, memory, “the spit of God,” the body, the physical world, and a broader, tempered omniscience about life itself. Against and within her voice, we are never lost or stranded by her awareness, “We’ve constructed a room / from ourselves where we hide / what secrets we have left.” You come through these poems as through a fire. It is exactly how Natalie Giarratano tells us: “It’s then I know there is no map I can buy / to show me the way out of here.”
~Rachel Eliza Griffiths


Self-Portrait as a Pair of Shoes Hanging from a Power Line

Notice both of us not because
you have to; sit in your car
at the red light because there’s
something you have to know:
all the birds are already here,
all of them weighing down
this wire, and we’re all fighting
lonesome—we cough up
sand to create our own
castles, our voices rise up
only to become stones
set loose to graze on hillsides.
There’s nothing but time here,
so, wait:  we could love you,
though, you should know,
we’ve seen the way you devote
yourself to pavement and always
appear to be rushing, leaving,
even if only molecules
and we know you are gone,
have seen you try to stomp
yourself out like a brown recluse
hiding in the cardboard
of that thing you call a chest.
The strings suspending us
disintegrate like the white
flowers on the church lawn
on which a dog daily pisses.
We’re not afraid, like his owner,
who carries a knife because                                                                                    
she dreams of a faceless stalker—
could be Jesus, an old lady or the po-
lice. This is such an easy town.
Everyone is semi-automatic, and kids
aren’t backed into corners by the white
face of the moon heavy above high-rises.
It’s in the seagull’s glassy
squawk—that dangerous way
one must find a music elastic
enough to carry all the songs
from all of the tides that have stopped
writing secrets of the universe
in sand; we just hum along
as though we already know
that music. It’s not enough—
living with this kind of make-
believe, flying even though
our heads are buried in sand.
(Originally published in Fifth Wednesday)

Forms of Forgetfulness

He was just a boy when a dead girl
stared at him from a gutter, when
she whispered with her open eyes:
Women are birds.
He tried to lose her, but she wouldn’t
leave his dreams, where every woman
had her gray face and wings so terrible
he hacked them off with his pocket knife.  
behind the mesh window told me to say
ten Hail Mary’s for wishing my mother was
I was guilty
enough to say twenty, to have the white
plastic beads of the rosary sweating lesions into my small
But when the prayer
danced from my mouth, all I heard was: Blessed
art thou, the fruit,
Then something was laughed into air.
She knew about the gods,
how, as they breathed in-
side her, it made her itch
as if her whole body had
to sneeze, how they scratched
holes through her heart walls
because she prayed for him
to change. She knew about
marriage, how to receive
love like communion bread
that’s really a metal barrel
on her warm, outstretched
tongue, how to swallow it
without retching. That’s
the way I remember a gun.
(Originally published in American Literary Review)

Armenia at the Dinner Table

So who’s to listen? Who’s to see
the face of a woman who has no
face but one caricature in black and
white to show how numb she was
to the brilliant blast of camera light,
how long her hair could have been
had it not been knotted up on her
square head to work the grid of farmland
in a damp Louisiana that remains under
her fingernails long after scrub down;
and she’s not frowning, exactly. Her face
is just lazy from sun and soy beans and
eight babies, a few who couldn’t outlive her.
Which leads me to the only story I know
about her: those eight babies swung
so long from her breasts that no one
believed she could have any left. But she waited,
she waited until the grandchildren, her
daughter, her son-in-law were gathered
around the dinner table. And to prove her point
that she indeed had breasts, she unbuttoned
her dress and let them roll out like twin
red carpets between the potato salad
and the rice. And every time I think of her,
I can’t help but imagine the weight
of those dead and living mouths on her body,
how they pulled her right down with them
so they wouldn’t forget how she smelled
of magnolias—those thick grandiflora
petals that I crawled into as a child.
(Originally published in Third Coast)

Almost Washout

So many
that I think are
dead in a ditch
surprise me
with their swirl and shift
of directions
with questionable minnows
that will quietly soak
into the trough of dirt
that remains when
rain takes a long breath,
only to magically
emerge from that ground
when the trough is useful
again. But forget
the minnows and think
about tongues
of frogs snatching
at what they
must think are mosquitoes;
they don’t realize
there’s nothing there,
or that everything
is on a tongue,
or that you and I
curl up in inked-out
places with no water
(no memory),
and breathe
in through our skin
what happens to be there.
(Originally published in Front Porch)


The weather tells me how wooden I am, belly down to read the tide, trying to dry myself out of this drifting; I am ten again in Galveston, not feeling guilty for ignoring the jellyfish on the beach, never entering the water because of who might be floating in it, who might brush her body—part flesh, part vegetation—against my skinny legs (never mind the science of decomp; there’s always flesh); these days I know jellyfish are hardly breathing through prisms of oil, are ovaries that men walk by with giant bags in which to collect them, to take them home, wash them off, string them into necklaces; these days I’d rather be stone.

New Coyote

It’s midnight in New Mexico, after who knows
how many nodding offs, CD changes,
and quiet tamale stands in Texas dust,
before we feel safe enough: hundreds of miles
from Johnson Space Center and the I-45
corridor, where Houston investigators              
routinely interview the bones of schoolgirls,
plenty far from looming rock formations
when out of the tumbleweed along I-10,
howls find their way out—coyotes siren
for hours. Voices that threaten if only because
they could be soundtracks of human laughter
pieced with screams. They appear along the sides
of the interstate only to disappear into dry dark.
The Chevy moves on quickly, its instinct
is to flee, it’s the coyote’s to chase us down,
it’s mine to turn the car around—save us all,
as if they need saving, these neophilic creatures;
but maybe it is in my nature to go back,
to be amazed at its smallness, how voice can be
so much bigger than body— like those of us
eight-year-olds who sang “We are the World” for seven
dead astronauts. They fell apart, their shuttle just dissolved:
a cube of ice in the fevered mouth of the universe.
And I used to be able to fall asleep
by tree song, that familiar lull of rustle
and fidget in wind. Instead: chickens rip
open wide the air with squawks as coyotes
raid the neighbor’s coop and schoolboys lead
their prize-winning pigs to slaughter like pied
pipers who must take everything apart.
How does this all work?
Coyotes showing up in subways and
elevators. That day. These newspaper
clippings. This looking back on it as though
jihad had forgone the spark of city for sky,
and all the days since I’ve tucked inside
skin and sleep, partly existing, never awake
to becoming some small wild dog that haunts
a desert it doesn’t need any more.
(Originally published in Southern California Review and Best New Poets 2011)

Asena, the Gray Wolf, to Tu Kuëh after Many Years

I’ve dented the side of an iron
mountain with my head. What can
I say: out of frustration. Tried to
hide it with tree bark but honey
nothing hides itself well enough
once a whole empire has walked
out of a woman, this woman who
doesn’t mind doing all the work
and respects that you are all torso
and pretty face and the father
of legions of limbs, but sometimes
I do wish I’d found you before they
removed your arms and legs,
so I’d have something with which
to pin you down. These lupine muscles.
This longing for reciprocated touch.
I’m sure the flesh of your belly is some
divine window that I have yet to learn
to look into at the people after us—
children with their hearts licked clean.
I sense this is all dissolving. The smell
of your skin on my fur is almost extinct.
Our bodies have stopped communicating.
No guts to spill, not even to spew.
Sometimes I think of the coldness of these
metal Altais. Mine and yours. So cold
with our lack of want for what gravity
owns. In this sedentary life you have no
choice but to claim, even storms that fly
down to us from the mountains
into these valleys of wasting away
are miraculous. The lightning awakens
instincts that have been forgotten
in this dale with no memory that tries to erase
us with its silence, its slow, deep breaths,
its green sighs. But instinct eventually
comes back to me, like misunderstanding.
Say: Loyal dog. Where else could I be at home?
(Originally published in Hayden's Ferry Review)


Past Events

with W. Joe Hoppe & Ben Kopel
Friday, September 12th, 2014
7:30 p.m.
Fun Party Reading Series
grayDUCK Gallery
Austin, TX
with Karissa Morton & Harold Whit Williams
Saturday, September 13th, 2014
6:00 p.m.
Kraken Reading Series
The Paschall Bar
Denton, TX
Thursday, November 6th, 2014
8 p.m.
Frostic Reading Series
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI
with Eric Pankey & others
Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
7:30 p.m.
The Inner Loop Reading Series
The Carriage House
Washington, DC
w/ poet Cindy St. John
Friday, November 8th, 2013
6 p.m.
Beloved Books & Gallery
Flying Monkey Arts Center
Lowe Mill
2211 Seminole Dr. #273
Huntsville, Alabama 35805
w/ poet Cindy St. John
Saturday, November 9th, 2013
Venue and Time TBA
Black Sheep Reading Series
Lexington, Kentucky  40502