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Across the Street from the Whitmore Home for Girls, 1949

By Rachel McKibbens

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.

Added: Thursday, July 3, 2014  /  From Beloit Poetry Journal Spring 2012 - Split This Rock Edition. Used with permission.
Rachel McKibbens

Rachel McKibbens is the author of Pink Elephant and is a New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow. She was an Urban Word NYC mentor, teaching poetry at Bellevue Hospital through The Healing Arts Program, targeting at-risk youth. She teaches poetry and creative writing throughout the country. Her poems, short stories and nonfiction have been published in numerous journals and anthologies including World Literature Today, The New York Quarterly, and The American Poetry Journal.

Other poems by this author