Rachel McKibbens is hands down my all time favorite poet and inspiration for doing what it takes to hang your truth out there on a microphone’s amplification from center stage. I was introduced to her work over 10 years ago when she first began performing. The university I attended was 2 blocks from a coffee shop called The Ugly Mugg Cafe.
Once a week at the Ugly Mugg there was a poetry event with an open mic, a feature, a break and then another open mic to sandwich everything in there nicely. The event was put on by two guys who called themselves, Two Idiots Peddling Poetry. It was here at the Ugly Mugg where I experienced spiritual awakening and rejuvenation for the first genuine time EVER. I was finally at church.
Back then, Rachel was not married, therefore not McKibbens yet and so she went by only her initials, RAC. I showed up every week for the possibility of catching her on the mic and she was usually there with all her might and children in tow. She was the one original idol from which I drew strength and unapologetically decided to follow the path that felt right to me. She was a kick ass mother who showed up every week with one kid on her hip usually (or breast feeding) and another walking beside her. She had long black hair with bright red bangs and arms nearly sleeved in tattoos already….and she never ceased to be brilliant and honest.
One day, she read this very unflattering poem about an experience from her childhood in which her father is described as mean and violent at a Thanksgiving dinner (I believe). The day she read this poem, her father was in the audience.
I was so awe-struck with admiration that I can say that moment changed my life.
The Ugly Mugg was where Orange County California’s National Slam Team came from and so even though I had been writing for well over 10 years already (I started writing poetry, very intently at the age of 9 or 10 and was 20 by this time). And even though I was there every week during the school year…for over a year already, I had never actually read on the mic. I was way too intimidated and frozen with awe.
But, when Rachel read the truth as she experienced it and just laid it in the lap of her father who was responsible for the trauma the piece captured….my whole being changed immediately. After that night, I stopped obsessing over the half-hearted teenage angsty mush that I had been so familiar with. I went back to my dorm room and wrote about my truth, with my dad, unapologetically and with full commitment to healing myself at that time, in that space. I stopped hiding my reality to save face for fear of who it would hurt or make uncomfortable.
That’s when I can say that the true sharpness of my gift slit my entire potential right open, letting me out for air with total relief, like I had been born again that evening….or born for the first time ever, set free from the cage of secrets that were not mine to keep.
I will be forever in debt to that singular experience, for it was that powerful.
These days, I watch this video performance of a piece by Rachel called, Last Love. It is like a prayer to me. I feel the intense reality of each word as it meets the next and the next, every unseen punctuation mark and the breaths between.
This poem is my Hail Mary prayer.