‘The Last Time’ by Rachel Mckibbens is the story of fighting back against an abusive father. After being physically abused by her father, Mckibbens takes a hammer and threatens to kill him if he ever hurts them (the poet and her brother) again.
‘The Last Time’ by Rachel Mckibbens explores physical abuse, and how one can retaliate against the abuser. Mckibbens creeps downstairs in the night, grabbing a hammer from a tool box. She goes back upstairs with the hammer and stands over her father’s body. At this point in the poem, we know that the poet and her brother are being abused by the man. She threatens him with the hammer, saying that she will kill him if he ever touches them again.
You can read the full poem here.
Mckibbens frequently employs semantics of stealth throughout ‘The Last Time’, relying on this lexical field to build a sense of suspense. Indeed, ‘Crept’, ‘pried’, ‘slowly’ all compound this sense of Mckibbens working stealthily, she does not want to wake up her father as she recovers the hammer which she will threaten him with.
Another technique that Mckibbens uses within ‘The Last Time’ is enjambment. This flow from one line to another furthers the idea of sneaking, with the quick passing between lines reflecting the silent movement. There is minimal use of caesura within the moments where Mckibbens is sneaking, the use of enjambement representing the steady flow as she moves through the silent house.
The Last Time Analysis
I did it alone,without leaving.
The poem begins by focusing on the first-person personal pronoun, ‘I’. In doing this, Mckibbens infuses her poem with the sense that the topic will be incredibly personal to her, and indeed this is what we experience as the poem progresses. We feel like accomplices in Mckibbens’ retaliation, the personal pronoun involving us in the first-person perspective.
By referring to the event which is about to take place as ‘it’, Mckibbens creates an uncertain atmosphere, we do not yet know that ‘it’ is, the use of the direct object disguising naming the event directly. The idea of doing it ‘alone’ builds on this idea – what Mckibbens is doing must be done by herself, she does not want to involve others if not necessary.
The idea of ‘without leaving’ instantly situates the poem within the house. Instead of running away from the abusive father, she instead fights back from within her own house, standing up to the abuser.
The welt on my facestill hot, I crept downstairs,(…)with his initials burned deepinto the handle.
The association with heat and pain runs throughout this stanza. The injury from the fathers’ abuse is suggested by ‘welt’, the word connoting a sense of pain. The further description of ‘still hot’ suggests the deep pain that Mckibbens is suffering due to the physical abuse inflicted upon her. The location, ‘face’, furthers the discomfort of this image, a clear image of pain being incredibly unsettling. The link between ‘still hot’ and the ‘initials burned deep’ into the ‘hammer’ show that it is the father that inflicted this pain on her, his ‘hammer’ suffering a similar act of brutalization as he ‘burned’ his initials deep into ‘the handle’. This could reflect how the father treats his daughter like an inanimate object, handling both of them in the same violent way.
It is here that Mckibbens begins to exact her plan, ‘crept downstairs’, silently moving through the house. The semantics of stealth and secrecy are important at this stage in the poem, ‘crept’ suggesting the need to go unnoticed. We are drawn further into the narrative, wondering what Mckibbens is doing sneaking so silently.
The suggestion of ‘pried open the toolbox’ is that it was a difficult feat. Although not easy, Mckibbens demonstrates that she is willing to suffer to enact revenge, struggling to open the ‘toolbox’ but finally managing to be able to have ‘pried’ it open.
The use of enjambment across these lines furthers the sense of sneaking, the lines flowing uninterrupted reflecting her movement down the stairs.
Upstairs, my brother slept
of reptiles watching over him.
The innocence of the ‘brother’ who ’slept’ establishes the idea that Mckibbens is doing this to protect her sibling. The vulnerability in ‘slept’, not given to the father in the same condition, suggests the brother must be cared for – Mckibbens is doing this for both of them, as we will come to see. The idea that something must be ‘watching over him’ furthers the sense that she feels she must protect her brother, wanting him to be looked after at all times.
Stanza Four and Five
I turned the knob slowly,and stood over my father’s body,(…)and I looked at him and said,If you ever touch us again,
I will kill you.
The stealth of Mckibbens is reaffirmed in this stanza, ‘turned the knob slowly’, not wanting to wake her father as she approaches. The vulnerability of the father’s ‘body’, when compared to the acts of violence he has enacted, is oddly unsettling. She catches him in a defenseless state, just having woken, ‘then stopped,’ showing how his slumbering breaths have come to an end.
By focusing on her fathers, ‘the whites of his eyes’, the man becomes somewhat animalized, the almost wolflike stare deeply unsettling.
The father focuses only on ‘the weapon in my hand’, responding only to the threat. It is clear to see that he barely even acknowledges his daughter’s presence, instead of looking directly at the ‘weapon’. It is clear that he will not listen to reason, instead of appreciating only violence and threats.
The direct nature of ‘I looked at him’ is an incredibly powerful moment in the poem, with Mckibbens facing her oppressor head-on.
The final two lines of the poem are written in italics. Mckibbens does this to signify that ‘The Last Time’ has now turned to speech, this moment giving the name to the poem. The comment is clear and direct, ‘if you ever touch us again, I will kill you’, the blunt nature of the final line compounding the threat in a simple sentence. The focus on ‘us’ also shows how Mckibbens is doing this to defend not only herself, but her brother – standing up to her father in order to save them both from his violence.