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The Poetry Issue: Rachel McKibbens

Two poems grapple with the question of who has power over our lives.

watercolor collage
Illustration by Chioma Ebinama

telescopes

Confused, you answer the phone.
It’s his name on the caller ID
but it can’t be him. Should
never be him. Hello? you ask.

You smell his deodorant through the phone.
His voice, a frenzied taxidermist
shoving through your body like wool.

You float outside of yourself,
the empty body below
so still it appears stitched into the rug.

When the teapot screams,
you return, catch the final sentence:

I want to see you again,
want to come over
tomorrow night?

Sure, you hear the body
say, what time?

It’s been over a week
since you’ve showered.
You can’t bear to touch skin,
to move your fingers through hair.

All the food in the fridge is dead,
the rotted garbage working
its way to your bedroom.

When your brother
drops the kids off
he watches you
for two hard minutes.

When’s the last time
you brushed your teeth?

What are teeth?

Remember when your body
was a furious & holy thing,
when it thrilled with babies inside it,
danced in an abandoned church, held
still in a field beneath the skull of the moon?

Remember the calm of the day,
in those hours before your body
became weapon, when it was something
you admired in the mirror despite its wounds?

The wounds. The wounds. The wounds.
The wounds! Now there is one. Only one.

Wound.

You forget to put postage on all the outgoing mail.
Your supervisor writes you up. Your boss’s laugh
makes you want to chop his arms off with an ax.
Your biggest client calls you sweetheart. Honey. Doll.
You roll up your car windows, eat lunch in the parking lot.

You forget to pay the electric bill.

You forget to pick your son up from karate.

You wake up on the cold floor.
Head still slack, hammered down by fog.

He’s passed out on his bed. You can hear
his roommates laughing in the kitchen.
You search for your clothes.
Can’t remember where your bra went,
where the welts on your shoulders came from.
Can’t remember anything between
the movie & the floor.

You finished your drink.
The man onscreen began talking
s l o w l yyyy.

Then.

What?

You survey the room.
Your body in the mirror.
Swollen knee.
Cotton mouth.
Missing contact.
Half blind.
Broken lamp.
Bare mattress.
Dead phone.
Stiff neck.
Sunlight.
Shit.
Morning.
Sunday.
Shit.
The babysitter.

Did she leave the kids?

Are they alone?

Is there enough milk for cereal?

As it’s happening, you know it’s the part
you can’t tell your friends.
It might be the dumbest movie of all time.
He says it’s his favorite,
the mean girl reminds him of you.
You’re watching a shitty movie
& it reminds him of you.
Horrible acting. Horrible script.
Not so-horrible-it’s-good horrible.
Just horrible horrible.
Haunt you for the rest of your life horrible.

You’ve seen him around town
three times in two days
so maybe it’s fate.
At last call, he offers
to buy you a drink.
I don’t drink, you say.
I come for pinball.

He asks why you look so sad & you tell him.
All of it, because he’s a stranger
& you feel a safety in that.
He sips his whiskey & listens
to the back of your head
slammed through the bedroom wall.
The black eye on Mother’s Day.
John’s overdose.
You can’t stop talking.
He doesn’t interrupt.
You hand him your number at closing.
He calls the next day.

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You haven’t been single since tenth grade.
Everything feels so new.
Delicate. Extreme.
You ask your friends how to meet people.
Are people with kids allowed to date?
You worry you’ve forgotten how to kiss,
how to be naked with a stranger.
It’s been so long since your body
has seen kindness.
You’re ready to have a normal life,
to study sweetness in all its forms.
You’re twenty-four. A good person.
Things will get better. You can feel it.

***

insomnia

I’ve been instructed to wear comfortable clothes.
A big t-shirt, loose sweats, hair pulled back.

Rocking bright red lipstick, I slide the receptionist
a stack of twenties, fill out forms on an empty stomach.

I decline the offer to be knocked out. I want to be there for it,
make someone look me in the eye. The other women

in the waiting room refuse to lift their heads.
The nurse pats my arm as the surgeon

wheels the machine to the foot of my bed.
You should really try to relax, she says, close your eyes.

A hard song throttles the floorboards.
I watch the dark stain on the ceiling & remember

we’re out of milk. When it’s done, I knock back
the apple juice to swallow some pills. Cab home

& call my husband on his lunch break: You get me
pregnant in my sleep again, I’m telling your mother.

Rachel McKibbens is a feral Chingona poet and author of the collections blud, Into the Dark & Emptying Field, and Pink Elephant.