deeper than dirt

Rachel McKibbens

after the poet asked how I would bury my brother

Beyond the carrots and blind white worms, beyond
the yellowing bone orchards and corkscrew roots, 
beyond the center of this churchless earth, beloved Peter, 
my little sorcerer, brought up dirty & wrong, you deserve more 
than to be smothered in mud. For all the gravel you were fed, 
for every bruise and knot that named you, I must plant you 
in a bed of blood-hot muscle, must deliver you into me, so I may
carry you as the only mother you have ever known. 

More by Rachel McKibbens

Across the Street from the Whitmore Home for Girls, 1949

The Mad Girls climb the wet hill,
breathe the sharp air through sick-green lungs.
The Wildest One wanders off like an old cow
and finds a steaming breast inside a footprint in the snow.
She slips it into her glove, holds it close like a darling.

At night, she suckles the lavender tit, still warm
in her hard little hands. She drapes it over her heart—
the closest she will ever come to a Woman Thing.

She sleeps on her right side with the breast
tucked between her legs. Her eyes flutter like a rocked doll.
She dreams of Before the Father, when her body
was smooth as a crab, her fingers
tip-toe soft. Her mouth was a shining crown,
her hair moved like a hungry dog.
Outside her bedroom, the Lonesome Boys hide in trees
to watch the Father lift her gown.

In the morning, she is who she is again.
Her hair, a soft black brick, her body held together
by hammers. The breast is shriveled up. Gone cold
in her lap. A death-blue fish with one stone eye.

Untitled

To my daughters I need to say:

Go with the one who loves you biblically.
The one whose love lifts its head to you
despite its broken neck. Whose body bursts
sixteen arms electric to carry you, gentle
the way old grief is gentle.

Love the love that is messy in all its too much,
The body that rides best your body, whose mouth
saddles the naked salt of your far gone hips,
whose tongue translates the rock language of
all your elegant scars.

Go with the one who cries out for her tragic sisters
as she chops the winter’s wood, the one whose skin
triggers your heart into a heaven of blood waltzes.

Go with the one who resembles most your father.
Not the father you can point out on a map,
but the father who is here, is your home,
is the key to your front door.

Know that your first love will only be the first.
And the second and third and even fourth
will unprepare you for the most important:

The Blessed. The Beast. The Last Love,

which is, of course, the most terrifying kind.
Because which of us wants to go with what can murder us?
Can reveal to us our true heart’s end and its thirty years
spent in poverty? Can mimic the sound of our bird-throated mothers,
replicate the warmth of our brothers’ tempers?
Can pull us out of ourselves until we are no longer sisters
or daughters or sword swallowers but, instead,
women who give and lead and take and want
and want and want and want,
because there is no shame in wanting.

And you will hear yourself say:

Last Love, I wish to die so I may come back to you
new and never tasted by any other mouth but yours.
And I want to be the hands that pull your children
out of you and tuck them deep inside myself until they are
ready to be the children of such a royal and staggering love.
Or you will say:

Last Love, I am old, and have spent myself on the courageless,
have wasted too many clocks on less-deserving men,
so I hurl myself at the throne of you and lie humbly at your feet.

Last Love, let me never roll out of this heavy dream of you,
let the day I was born mean my life will end
where you end. Let the man behind the church
do what he did if it brings me to you. Let the girls
in the locker room corner me again if it brings me to you.
Let this wild depression throw me beneath its hooves
if it brings me to you. Let me pronounce my hoarded joy
if it brings me to you. Let my father break me again
and again if it brings me to you.

Last love, I have let other men borrow your children. Forgive me.
Last love, I once vowed my heart to another. Forgive me.
Last Love, I have let my blind and anxious hands wander into a room
and come out empty. Forgive me.

Last Love, I have cursed the women you loved before me. Forgive me.
Last Love, I envy your mother’s body where you resided first. Forgive me.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Forgive me.
Last Love, I did not see you coming. Forgive me.

Last Love, every day without you was a life I crawled out of. Amen.
Last Love, you are my Last Love. Amen.
Last Love, I am all that is left. Amen.

I am all that is left.
Amen.

Minneapolipstick

1. 
 

Santa Ana, California,
 
3 a.m. in my cousin’s basement,
 
lights out, television volume spun low.

We are huddled around the screen,

a small congregation of forgotten children,

brown faces illuminated by 

a five-foot-two Black man,
 
decked out in lace, eyeliner, Spandex 

and the gutsiest high-heeled boots 

big enough to fit only a mannequin.

 
This Minnesota royalty freaks and splits his body biblical.

Throat raw with screeching doves, he pirouettes
 
with his truest love: a pale pawn shop guitar
 
we daydream of buying some day

with our lunch money. 

 
2. 

 
1984. What planet is this? 

A third-grade heartbreak apostle,

I got a butch haircut my father calls a “Dorothy Hamill.”

Naw, pops. Watch me pin the girls against the handball courts. 

Bold. Answering their tongues with my tongue.
 
My forbidden schoolyard brides. My makeshift Apollonias. 

Once they’re in love, I pull away, bite my lower lip,

wink, then walk away.

 
I am not yet a king, but I got moxie and I move
 
like I know I’ll die young.
   
 
3. 
 
 
Boys will be boys, unless they aren't 

 
4.
 
 
This is what it sounds like 

to praise our heavenly bodies in spite of the hells 

that singed us into current form. For the permission

you granted in sweat and swagger, 

for the mascara’d tears you shed on-screen,

for the juicy curls that hung over your right eye

like dangerous fruit, for the studded

shoulder pad realness and how your
 
falsetto gospel rang our young,

queer souls awake,

we say amen.