Poetry Suite by Rachel McKibbens
Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Poetry, March 4th, 2013
My father didn't teach me how to love living things. So I run.
A Child Without Arms Running Through a Field (Wyoming)
I pull over to the side of the road when I notice her, charging
the field in a blue and white dress, a flag of black hair
cracking against the wind. I step out of my car, the air is thick
with the insects hissing a diligent song. By now, the child is a half
mile away; a galloping, armless blur, howling the wild rabbits
back into the ground.
There isn’t a house for thirty miles in any direction. The girl is
getting smaller and smaller. I call out to her, my voice
breaking against the crisp blue sky. Hey! Little girl! Do you
need a ride home? But she does not answer, even the insects
have burrowed deeply into the silence. I am all alone. My mother
lives far away, in a house I will never see, and my father
didn’t teach me how to love living things. So I run.
After the tenth mile, my legs no longer belong to me. I am one
hundred yards away from the child. Maybe less. It is my
loneliness that helps me run faster; it carries the hunger of
forty hounds. I am close enough now to hear the child
I call out to her again, but she only answers by leaping into the
air, her body fanged with youthful mockery. My lungs and
muscles start to burn with an ordinary hate. When I catch you,
I scream, I am going to fucking kill you! The child starts to
whistle, the way only a grandfather can whistle. It is a tune I
know, though I cannot remember the words. I am now an
arm’s length from the child. My heart, an angry blood hive. I
reach out and close her hair into my fist, then pull. Her head
rips back, and when it hits the soil, blooms into a scatter of
I kneel to the ground and tear at the grass. I shove the flowers
into my mouth, I scream my mother’s dead name. I want to
fuck these flowers into nothing. I want to kill and drink and
eat the child. I pound at her blue face until the flowers stop
whistling, until every little flower is dead and dead and
deaddeaddead, as the body, alone in its sunlit skin, continues
to run. Leaping and singing its way down the field. A body
full of life. A body, unscarred.
+ + +
The news of your drowning burst a pipe
in our kitchen, my lover’s face scalloped
with panic. Because I do not believe
in coincidence, because I know that every thing
happens because someone has made it happen,
we packed up our children and stayed in a hotel.
When we returned the next morning, the children
squealed at the minnows shimmering against the linoleum.
The super, hunched over a bucket of seaweed,
looked up at my infant daughter resting on my hip.
She did this, he said, then pointed at the birthmark,
shaped like a squid, etched along her chin,
That mark, it means she has a special power.
I tucked my lover into our waterlogged bed.
The dog didn’t make it, he said. I’ll bury her
in the morning. That night, the moon was
whiter than a whale and the neighbors
across the courtyard made love wildly.
I stood at my bedroom window and listened
as my boys busied themselves, scooping out lobsters
from behind the radiator and my baby girl,
playing telephone with a conch shell,
warned you never to set foot in this house again.
+ + +
The Lonesome Staircase
PART ONE: THE DECEPTION
They were lying naked in bed,
watching the curtains flicker
like a skirt above the fire escape.
When the woman asked,
Do you remember the first time we made love?
The man smiled, then stretched his long limbs
until his joints cracked like nutshells.
Of course I do, he said, You were on your period.
My mattress looked like a crime scene.
The woman blushed. Then what?
The man smiled again. I said I was thirsty,
but I was too tired to go down to the kitchen,
so you tiptoed to the bathroom across the hall
and put your mouth on the faucet. When you came back,
you leaned over me like a bird, trickling water into my mouth.
That is when I knew you were my wife. Born just for me.
What happened next?
I wrote my name on the small of your back in blood.
I told you I would love you forever.
That I would fight a grizzly bear for you.
That I would shoot my own mother if you asked.
And when I had to go home?
I grew a beard and played empty songs on my guitar.
My mouth fell quiet as a five-story library.
My heart was a shipwrecked piano.
I slept alone for forty-four days.
PART TWO: THE DREAMER
She chopped off her hair with a kitchen knife,
cutting down seventeen years of love.
Snip. Good-bye, dad.
Snip. Good-bye, Joseph.
Snip. Good-bye, Lucas.
Snip. Good-bye, Thomas.
Meanwhile, his beard grew an inch
for every lie he spoke into the phone.
An inch for I’m lonely.
An inch for Now it rains all the time.
An inch for I’m going to bed.
An inch for I wrote you a letter.
An inch for Heaven is a dog good enough
to sleep at your feet.
PART THREE: THE NIGHTMARIST
The room begins to fill with water.
The bed starts to rock like a grieving lover.
You are down the hall, trying to swim to me.
Every time I call your name, I cough up a sea urchin.
I become so lonely my skin starts to salt
and shrivel. My tongue shrinks down
to the size of a forgotten pearl.
All the water in the world and I am dying of thirst.
When you finally reach me, I pull you onto the headboard.
You lean over me, like I did for you that first night.
But when the water spills from your lips,
it becomes dark knots of hair in my mouth.
+ + +
The Smudged Wife
Our children are stuck in the tree
of our backyard and I try everything
to get them down. I toss them a rope,
prop a ladder against the trunk,
chant a spell of safety nets.
Finally, I call the fire department,
but every time one of the children
touches a rescue device, their hands
turn into a nest of radio wire.
You arrive with an ax, but the tree
grows a foot taller with each valiant swing.
Seven weeks go by. The newscasters leave.
The firemen become helpless shadows of ash.
Life goes on for the most part. You return
to your job as a ventriloquist
while I spend my days in a crane,
filling picnic baskets with binoculars
and canteens of warm milk,
knitting busy radio wire
into a family of small hands.
+ + +
Let’s Crawl Into That Photograph & Stay There for a While
A child came up to me in the park
and asked for a cigarette.
Her eyes were startled cats,
her voice, a chandelier.
I don’t smoke, I said.
She took a seat beside me
on the bench, resting her head
against my shoulder.
Her hair smelled like an old
dictionary cracked open
after rain. I want tenderness,
she said, as a row
of pigeons crashed
against the trees
like good china.
+ + +
Poet, activist, playwright, and essayist Rachel McKibbens is a New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and author of the critically acclaimed volume of poetry, Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009.) Her second collection of poetry, Into the Dark & Emptying Field, is forthcoming from Small Doggies Press in 2013.