blud by Rachel McKibbens
Copper Canyon Press, 2017; 91 pp
Reviewed by Wesley Rothman
The cast of characters in blud come roaring on stage, first a child come back to life, unwrapping the telephone cord from her neck, then mother (“the blue song / became a dirge, / then the dirge / became a girl”) and father, who “busted my face open,” told work he broke his hand playing ball with the kids, and “handed me / the remote so I, / too, could / know love.” These staccato lines, these quick-shot blows, a smooth, agile metamorphosis of language and image riddles these poems, crashing us into a psyche resilient though battered and battered. McKibbens implores us to make hard looks, to keep our eyes on the players, no matter how much we wince, want to intervene; the poems are here, we can’t stop them from coming, we must give them an eye and an ear and a body to work through. Every wince they demand steels the speaker, reveals to us and steels us against that which destroys, those who destroy the body and the person who inhabits it: “I wanted to become / the reversal of light, / to exist / only within the / hard-clenched black— // kindergarten pariah / with a sweet tooth for death,” or “It’s okay to wave / goodbye to yourself / in the mirror.” We are delivered the grimy, grisly, gruesome flourish of adrenaline, of shock: a grandmother taking the hand of her rapist to make sandwiches; a mother begging to be sacrificed if “this melancholy / makes a black hole / of me,” if “our children are / doomed to orbit / this spoiled delirium;” a sibling asked, “If you could return to your father at the foot // of the bed, would you swallow your sisters whole to save them?” These poems flash scenes and images as from a horror film, but not merely of terror, often of the fiercest desire to protect, of a truly ferocious love, of the glories and grotesqueries this bodied life affords us. Their balance is startling—explosive and direct with sincerity no critic could call melodramatic; fluid and sturdy with lasting metaphors, images, narratives that only amplify their corresponding experiences and emotions. Through brutal and leveling stories of family, through frenetic image and bright-hot-syllables, through incantations, repetitions, litanies, sermons, gluttonies, soliloquies, and a stilling pantoum, McKibbens hammers into unison the flight of lyric and the brute force of our daily language. Few, if any, of these poems go without blood. Why would you want your poems bloodless anyway?