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white girl interrogates her recurring dreams

Marty McConnell

Bone garden, bone grove, bone farm, padlock
on both church doors. Speech

upon speech on the TV, sirens and the chatter
of blackbirds on cold wires. My love

is far away from me wearing a knit
hat. A man and woman I adore

are our only way to safety. I see
no boys being killed but am aware

that they are being killed and there’s
a bucket in my hands that keeps

filling and filling, getting heavier
and heavier but never overflowing, just

filling. With what? My love is way
over there. We can see each other

but not touch. I know sooner
or later she will come over

here, I know it’s not for always
but this bucket. Full of ghost

bones, full of speeches, those boys
fraying pieces of hail on the marble rim

of the birdbath, over there, in the bone
garden. Starlings, starlings

in the bone farm. Then there is
a train. On it, I am aware

of my whiteness in contrast
to the other passengers and stand closer

to my friends, their brownness a comfort
I am embarrassed to feel. Where

are we going? The church
in which we find ourselves

has rooms inside of rooms. Still
I have this bucket. It is the circumference

of my hips. My love is in another part
of the house, I feel her living with the left

side of my head. Black boys
are dying, I say, dying

I say but I don’t have any mouth,
just this bucket. Just this bucket.

This poem is, as the title suggests, based on recurring dreams of mine in which churches, trains, and blackbirds appear. In the iteration of the dream that initiated this poem, I was the only white person and acutely aware of that fact, as well as of my physical proximity to my friends of color who were also on the train. On waking, the dream felt like an effective frame for interrogating the strange dislocation with being “othered” in a way that one is generally not—I am, for example, often “othered” in rooms of straight people, but I am less often the only white person, and the implicit power imbalance between those two situations is very different. The bucket image, which also appeared in the actual dream, felt to me symbolic of the way in which I am the repository for so much privilege that I have not yet wielded in an effective enough way. I'm also indebted to Phillip B. Williams for his brilliant revision advice that sent me deeper into the poem and saved it from getting booted from the manuscript.

Marty McConnell is the author of wine for a shotgun (EM Press, 2013); when they say you can’t go home again, what they mean is you were never there, winner of the 2017 Michael Waters Poetry Prize (SIR Press, 2018); and Gathering Voices: Creating a Community-Based Poetry Workshop (YesYes Books, 2018). She is the co-creator of underbelly, an online magazine focused on the art and magic of poetry revision. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Best American Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and Indiana Review. McConnell lives in Chicago with her wife, visual artist Lindsey Dorr-Niro.