Book Review: Mammoth by Rachel McKibbens

Mammoth-Final-FrontI picked up Rachel McKibbens’s new chapbook Mammoth a few months ago, read the first few poems, and then hid the book beneath my mattress until my bones were ready for the impact of things. I knew it was one of those stories that might drain me or make me feel human again. When I dragged it back out the thin cover was slightly torn, but still heavy like I remember, and my scribbles from our first encounter on the inside cover “la llorona hollers for her dead child.” I still don’t think I’m ready for this.

The first poem in Mammoth titled “Count” puts the reader at the center of the universe inside the moment of beautiful agony: childbirth. It is a boy. McKibbens writes:

Did I tell you, as I nursed my son
that first hour, I felt my bones
begin to thicken,
spinning themselves
into a coven of ax handles? (5).

“Count” sets the stage for a flood song of sadness and grief, a book revolving around the death of a child and the brutal confrontation with loss.

On each page of Mammoth. Rachel once again proves her profound command of storytelling, taking the simple moments and turning them into heart wrenching revelation. It becomes clear in Mammoth, there are no simple moments when we’re in the trenches of suffering. She writes:

Still, the clocks in this house get smaller
every day with acres and acres of dirt
ready to claim us. When I say,
at last, I am completely flattened,
how is it that Loss
can always find
more room? (“The Last July” 6).

And in her poem “Rochester, NY” she writes:

We planted you forty-eight hours ago.
Nothing will grow. We are still
wearing our funeral clothes” (18).

Mammoth is one of those mystic books that’ll transport the reader into places they never thought they could go and frankly, places they may not want to go. It’s the sterile bloody knife of an operating room, the unbearable sight of a child-size coffin, the hollering grief stricken mother, and the small ghost.

I am so glad I mustered the courage to keep reading, to keep watching this woman, this brave beautiful woman, confront pain and loss with such elegant force. Mammoth is not for the weak at heart. It will stick with you and force you to appreciate your loved ones still living, and commemorate those that have passed.   And the ending…oh Lord have mercy, the ending is worth the journey.

Buy Mammoth here at Organic Weapon Arts:

Listen to Rachel read “Portsmouth Ohio, A Dirge in Four Parts” and other poems at The Bakery:

And if you’re still thirsty for more, as I always am, check out this ridiculously inspiring Tedx Talks by Rachel.  Enjoy!!!


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