In “blud”, Rachel McKibbens explores the effects of childhood trauma, looking both to its source and aftermaths, including the concern of inheritance of personality and patterns of behaviour that could turn victim into abuser. Looking for the source starts with, “a brief biography of the poet’s mother,”
hands & a tub
full of bleach
thieved & thieved
until the child
a quiet room
a silence born
Girl is the worst season.
Mother no guarantee.”
Not all mothers are maternal, yet it’s still taboo to say so, and plenty of mothers want to stay centre stage and resent any attention given to their children. “Looking-glass” is significant. Nurturing mothers will mirror and support their child. A mother who expects her child to mirror and reflect her is already dismissing the child’s emotional needs as unimportant. If not corrected, the child will continue to feel dismissed and ignored. Bleach is used to cleanse and disinfect but a “tub full” is excessive suggesting the mother saw the child as tainted and uncontrollable, so reacted by re-doubling her efforts to impose control, stealing the child’s sense of self in the process. All this happens between mother and daughter – father and wider family are not mentioned – so others don’t intervene and when the child speaks out, she is disbelieved. That disbelief is looked at in “the ghost’s daughter speaks: white elephant”,
“. She says I’m going to pay for
. what I’ve written I’m going to pay for this poem
. She has a way
of making things
. Please quit saying but she’s your mother
. I’ve never
. We’ve never
. You don’t know
what it’s like
I don’t think you’re
. that bitch is
Kray is a deliberate reference to the Kray twins, London gangsters reputed to follow a code of conduct that included respecting their mother, who was ignorant of their lawlessness. It suggests the mother being more concerned with appearances than events, with creating an air of respectability over the truth, which must remain behind closed doors. Again, there’s a reference to the taboo of a non-maternal mother, “Please quit saying but she’s your mother.” Even after abuse, the maternal link is used to urge a child to keep in touch with an abuser as if blood is more important.
Legacies of trauma is looked at in “leverage” where a grandmother who is raped,
“As the man pulled his pants up,
she noticed the tattoo on his
forearm. MOTHER framed
by a heart. My sons will be home
soon, she explained.
What she told me next
I could never understand,
not until I’d lived long enough
in this temporary body,
not until I had five children
of my own, how, when the man
held out his hand, she took it.”
Sagely, the grandmother appeals to the rapist’s love for his own mother to save her from further injury, even allowing her assailant to assist her back on her feet afterwards. She gambled on him falling into a dutiful son role.
“swell” returns to the broken child/mother relationship explored earlier,
“. let it be here, in that heat-ravaged
moment as she caught the pale bloom of herself
. in the mirror & looking
. back over her shoulder,
fell in love with the animal engine of her body,
. not for the daughter it could nurture
. but for the girl it would kill.”
Again the image of a mirror. Here the mother loves her reflection, just as Narcissus did, and the pleasure her body can give her. The daughter is cast into the role of Echo, who longed for a response from Narcissus but faded into nothing when he didn’t reciprocate. The implication is that the lack of maternal love destroys the child.
“blud” is poetry as witness, recording trauma and exploring both its origins and after effects. Some poems also look at the fear of inherited behaviour and the victim inflicting damage on others in turn. It directly engages with domestic violence, abuse, sexual violence unflinchingly and honestly. But “blud” has not forgotten the reader, this is not a cathartic outpouring, but controlled, forged poems.