If I Am Burning


In stock

poems by


Rachel Marie Patterson

Poetry chapbook, 32 pages, $10 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-59948-335-1

Released: 2013


RPatterson_PxRachel Marie Patterson is a Ph.D. student specializing in Creative Writing and Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She earned her M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her poems appear in Fugue, Redivider, The Greensboro ReviewClementine MagazineRed River Review, and others. She lives in the Midwest with her partner and their two dogs, Woodrow Wilson and Pumpkin.

Mythological sirens, Chagall’s mother, a political family’s lobotomized daughter, the Amish girls killed in the Nickel Mines shooting, a cross-dressing Carson McCullers heroine, a stigmatic–these are among the memorable women populating Rachel Marie Patterson’s gutsy collection. The poems in If I Am Burning investigate how the female body is touched, pierced, adorned, tampered with, judged, and desired. What burns in these pages-yearning, outrage, compassion-burns in images that remain charred on the mind long after the reader puts the book away. This is a sharp-eyed and socially aware collection with a voice that can “start / the stopped clock / in your jacket.”

–Melissa Range,
author of Horse and Rider

I am so hungry for Rachel Marie Patterson’s poetry, which embodies the expression “food for the soul.” Patterson concocts a feast of words with the finest ingredients of poetry–bravery, music, formal play, exquisite craft, experiment–and lays out a beautiful banquet, where the speakers at the table insistently tell the truth. Here is witness, empathy and the struggle to be empathic. This marvelous poet serves us the full range of sour and bitter and salt and sweet, and we swallow the interconnectedness of all living beings.

— Aliki Barnstone



He never touched me, it wasn’t–
It was just the too-long hugs, the way
he wanted to feel my back through
my clothes when he patted me
while I played, the way he said hello
and goodbye with his hands, how
he acted differently when my mother
was in the room. I didn’t tell my parents
then. I didn’t tell them how he rocked
on the stool next to me, eyes closed–
Play play–hands moving rhythmically,
knee to thigh, knee to thigh. Mr. G.
was always kind to us. He never–
The studio was in the garage
behind his house: the waiting room
with a green vinyl couch and a black-
and-white TV, the office where he took
my parents’ checks, and the piano room
with paneled walls. One day, he pulled
a metal box from inside a drawer,
said his brother used to be a jeweler,
he just had this lying around–
he wanted me to wear the necklace.
The door was shut, he’d shut it.
I asked my sister, and he never gave her
anything. I showed it to my mother.
She wanted to know, so I told her
the truth: no ma’am–just the necklace–
he never–just–until I begged her
not to tell him that I’d told,
just to sit with me during the lessons
so I wouldn’t be alone. She told me
I imagined things. Next week
at my lesson, Mr. G. smiled so big
that his teeth were like piano keys,
and he laughed–he pinched my sides
while he was laughing-and I knew that
Mom had told him, that he’d made her
laugh with him, laugh at me.
It was three years of lessons before
she let me quit. And Mr. G. still visits
on Christmas and on Thanksgiving–
He brings his Polaroid camera,
wants to take my picture.


What I wanted was not
what I wanted: syllables

burnt down like cigarettes,
the bar counter

slick with spills
and shellac, too smooth

to catch me. What is,
what was: a pulsing

hot blood star:
the neon draught

sign blinking
on and off, the sticks

under our feet, the sticks
against my back,

a door swinging
shut above me.

What I know
of a man: his hands:

my mother drew
me a map

I couldn’t read.
She didn’t say

sometimes what
they hold they hold

too tight:
the next morning,

I washed my hair
in the sink, the stink

of damp still clinging
to my wrinkled dress.


Little Rosie rolling through the field,
half-dazed: when you spoke,
you spoke out of turn; you rode
in that boy’s car; you broke
out of the convent on a rope
of knotted sheets. You were not
your precious, golden brothers,
nor placid, nor sweet. You roared
through that house, you hissed
at your mother. There was no place
for you, though they loved you–
there was no place for a woman
so dumb and so fierce. Desperation
led them to the Doctor’s office,
that and the misplaced hope of who
you were meant to be, quiet and kind,
your brothers’ keeper–the oldest sister,
darling and upright. When the surgeon
pierced your skull, you were wide awake.
Know this: they did not know.
They did not mean to hurt you.
But then all you had was the dull snap
of those synapses breaking and
the boldness of your body, stripped
of language, stripped of reason,
still bulging awake each morning.
And all they had was the greatness
of your need. You were the first
Tragedy, Rosie, but know
that you were not the last. And know
that your sisters huddled by,
that Eunice visited once a month
in her elaborate hats and her small,
latticed gloves to read you passages
from the Bible.

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