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the first time

I came back to life
was in 1980.
I awakened,

my head a blue
in sound—

a grotesque clutter:
the meep-meep of a
cartoon bird,

sticky flock
of children
in the courtyard.

Then a voice
I did not

a ruined gasp
emerging from
my cut-off

I unwrapped
the telephone cord—
how long had I been

from the black-out,

body feathered
in sweat. I listened
to the room,

felt the rush
& shuffle
of my heart—
a felled finch.

shock of

Lucky my dad
was not
awake to
find me there—

his radiant little
death inventor

with X’d-out eyes
& a halo of birds
circling my dome.
Lucky to have
outlived this
unripened error.

Can you imagine?
A child standing
at the mouth
of the Underworld

for a time-out,
trying to reason
with whatever’s
in charge:

No, no! I never
meant to stay dead.
I simply wanted
a sweeter life.


for Jacob

What does the God of your childhood look like?
A soft apparition pigeoned in the attic,

a wound eating you one year at a time? If you could
destroy the story before it started, would you—

go back—before the unnameable thing?
If you could return to your father at the foot

of the bed, would you swallow your sisters whole to save them?
Obedience in the wrong house is a kind of plague,

survivor’s guilt a sleight of hand. No outrunning
your blood’s calamity, so you gather your teeth

& dig your trenches, tell your stories but never come clean.
No news from the mother yet. Just your gutted sisters

stuffed in the outhouse. Your ageless smile going bad
in a frame.


the second time

was in my classmate’s
mouth. Lying on

the floor of her baby blue
bedroom she asked,

Do you think
you’re a boy or a girl?

& everything inside
me came bruising

to the surface.
Neither, I said

& it was understood.
In that charged silence,

she rolled over, draped
her wronged body

over mine, as if to anchor
the damaged bastard

with no desire to stay.
She listened to the awakened

heat of me, its bright
song infecting my blood.

Our feral bodies, driven
by un-mothered chaos

returned each other to
the living. All hail

the power of a proper
finger fuck & the wet

demolition of shame.
What I had once

mistaken for death
was, instead, a door.


Rachel McKibbens

Rachel McKibbens is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and author of two full-length books of poetry, Pink Elephant, Into The Dark & Emptying Field, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the chapbook?MAMMOTH. McKibbens founded The Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat, an annual writing retreat in the US open exclusively to women of color. McKibbens is a member of Latinas Unidas and co-curates the critically acclaimed reading series Poetry & Pie Night in upstate New York.


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