natalie hampton


except for when i remember for when

i remember.

at the dawn of fourteen months,

my parents tore my tongue into a lisp.

cleaved in half: trained the left

to normal pronunciation & the right to

slurred syllables i’d spill & bury

in small-town graves & then at one

hundred months, i sawed the left off. ghost

tongue, sometimes i feel the muscle bloom

against the palate of my mouth

& when i bite down, ghost blood leaks.

at the dawn of one hundred thirty-seven

months, a speech therapist spoke of remedies

& regrowth for the left half & told me

to become a salamander. axolotls regrow limbs,

regrow hearts, regrow limbs. she said

swallow ‘em stem cells / mix ‘em with eggs /

extra scrambled / it’s breakfast every day

until your tongue kisses itself. what she didn’t know:

i’d saw it in half the second she turned

her back. we ended our sessions soon after.

i don’t miss my ghost tongue except for when:

my grandparents told me i like to talk talk talk

& i was meant for the news reporter life

& i said my ghost tongue wasn’t crafted

for the tv screen, wasn’t meant for the speaking

job, & they said our president has a lisp himself /

these days, they let anyone open their mouths. &

i wondered how the axolotls did it:

regrew an entire part of themselves.

Natalie Hampton is a junior at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Creative Writing Department. She is a 2022 YoungArts Finalist in Creative Nonfiction and a Scholastic Gold Medalist. Beyond writing, she enjoys playing soccer, working in activism, and volunteering with individuals with disabilities. Her work is heavily inspired by her brother with a disability and his passing in 2019. She is also the founder of Special Siblings Connect, a nonprofit designed to support siblings of those with disabilities.