I’m no stranger to the anxiety dream, one that often leaves me shaking and paints my subconscious reality atop the waking one. The last was of an unnaturally large pack of incensed dogs shattering the glass door between the backyard and the living room, the heat of their bodies washing over me while their eyes, and the trailing wind, remained icy. I woke just after that first puncture, before their teeth ripped into my skin anew, the crowd undulating in all its horrifying power. But multiplicity isn’t the only manifestation of violence: the determined one can be just as willing to crush your agency. This is definitely the case in ‘bitch.’, which resists the life-creation-as-miracle narrative to offer glimpses of the breeding process in its honest brutality.
When the breeder forces copulation, it’s clearly traumatic for the girl “jar[red] open.” Lack of second-person doesn’t allow us to be any less complicit in not ending this violation because even in these small, crystalline moments, the passive role implies how easily we can be chained to patriarchy’s whims. Hicks’ end-stopped, clipped lines move us into a hiccuping rhythm, which slides the story past piece by unswallowable piece: “daddy brings the stud up behind her again. cups her hips & holds / her still when the cock catches her off guard. when her fur dampens. / while the muscle jerks beneath.” This stillness can’t offer any repose; this stillness shaves off a piece of you for dead. It’s brilliant to have the whole universe slyly orbit around men naming her “bitch”, even before they say it. Wriggling out of grip, attempting to keep your body as your own, screaming loud enough to alert others… all “bitch moves” before the awaited coupling.
It’s haunting to constantly circle around the neighbor coming alive as onlooker, as if this debasement is a worthwhile entertainment: his cheeks “gash red”, he “pants a little”, his mouth “slides open to reveal charred gums and piss teeth.” This inability to reign himself in and prioritize caring for himself over others feels sinister here. Why attend to other bodies if it means failing your own? The daddy also doesn’t even try to shield this scene from witnesses, instead lighting up at the prospect of puppies. Yet there’s nothing airy about this last line: “their eyes gesturing excitedly at the way she’s finally broken into.” These actions reinforce what we already know about misogynistic mindsets: the emotionally sentient being comes second to the conquest. How can we celebrate, alongside these men, the destruction of her defenses as if she’s not worthy of her boundaries? I’m stunned by how deftly Hicks collapses the distance between human and animal; distress & cruelty sink equally into all species until there’s nothing left to blur.