Rachel McKibbens

// review by Sarah María Medina //

Reading blud, Rachel McKibbens’ third book is like reading the invocations of an enchantress—spells of a bruja, desterros de una hija. Try reading the blud poems aloud and soon you will be binding down the bad, banishing it forever, and letting in all the light. These poems—or spells—show devotion to the coven: As Rachel McKibbens says in her acknowledgments, blud is for “the most feral singers, we who open our throats to swallow the sky’s shimmering and perfect darkness.” It speaks to those of us who are survivors, and creates a magic circle of prayer around themes of mental illness, sexual assault, and survival. She expels shame to say come beloved, stay.



Filled with oaths, oraciones, and soliloquies, blud opens with the first time the narrator came back to life, “a halo of birds” coveting her crown, and traces wound through bloodlines the way family constellations map inheritance of genetic trauma. In leverage, the narrator chronicles her abuela's survival of rape. The poem asks: if our bisabuelas have passed down their sadness through our bloodlines—have they not also given us survival and resistance too?

In oath (blud litany), we enter the holy cuerpo with quatrains:

if you’re always willing to risk more than what you’ve been given,
          if you wake up feeling empty & struggle to allow this emptiness,
                    to be a comfort as you lie still within the soft forgotten witch
                               of your body.

As oath (blud litany) builds its rhythmic chant, it becomes a promise, a dedication, and a breaking apart of neo-colonialism with its reference to kin (a nod to survival of the Atlantic) and familia (a second nod to resistance):

into its muddy tapestry, we are kin / familia / famia(r) / B-L-U-D
          blud fanged & one-voweled, the thick & heavy. Simple.
                      From out the mud we siren eternal
                               Blud royals of lost skin & shadow.

The last stanza its own oración—a spell to free us all:

I unbl_d you to blud you. blud the terror echoes of heredity.
        blud each bruised memory into weightlessness. blud beloved.
                  blud hum / blud the ready ghosts of shame
                            blud possess your body back to holy
blud thrive / blud rush / blud bone menagerie / blud wild / woke
        horse / fang / laced / covet / slick / gut / wing / lit
                  blud full moon hustle & oath

Tight rhythm makes bars of each structured line. Embrace the inner blud of you, all your bruja. I did, and it revived me. It asks me to see myself as holy, and yes, wanted. It asks me to believe in the blessed.

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 & its thirty years spent in poverty? 

Poem,  * * *, which comes as asterisks after oath (blud litany) demands me to let my last love surface. Not the first, nor the second, nor third, the poem insists, but our last: that love which “can pull us out of ourselves until we are / no longer sisters or daughters or sword swallowers / but instead women who give & lead & take & want / & want / & want / & want / because there is no shame in wanting. & you will.”  

As a survivor of sexual assault, it is often hard to believe that your want will be found as a jewel. It is difficile to separate your desire from the pain experienced from violence. To no longer swallow the blade and to instead embrace the desire we embody is to sing ourselves toward a new destiny: to find our last love who honors that sacred jewel of a lake inside. At the end of a progression of poems as prayer— *** leads us to ourselves.

This is the magic of blud. How it chants back. McKibbens chants at false myths of mental illness and sexual violence. Through blud we find ourselves holy again—as we always were. Holy like Guadalupe inside a cloak of constellations, pistol hidden below a fabric of night. We find ourselves within a coven—ready to fight back; ready to love.

Strong narratives “with a starving bitch / & pistol at the ready” pop with sacred images (“& all that dark honey”) inside inverted parallels: a girl turned woman surviving mental illness over and over, the devotion of her daughters in the kitchen. The narrative throughout is held together within a soliloquy of spells. The power of the coven is found in una oración (bruja’s soliloquy) in the “blur of this electric mouth” and “this cauldron of a cunt.” She finishes with a powerful promise in the final couplets:

Listen: anything holy
is not reversible.

There isn’t a man alive
who could undo me.

Within a searing narrative that turns survival into invocation, McKibbens conjures both chance and power. Chingona—she doesn’t hold magic back. She offers up incantations. She asks us to see ourselves as our own church—our own place to pray. When we read blud, we coven.



Find blud on the Copper Canyon press website here, and visit Rachel McKibbens's website here.