For him I undress in quiet layers, past purple bruises to bare bone—
slip into a new skin, hang the old one with my winter coats.
I unbutton my throat hastily; smooth my words on the back of the chair.
I shimmy out of my stomach; toss my brain on the counter
leave a trail of organs to the bedroom.
I spread open like dull hunger,
I drown holding my breath in a desert.

I do it for love.
For love, I starve the most modest night.


Let us forget the work day,
undo the buttons on your ironed dress shirt,
let us explore whatever bare part of our bodies
the light touches
through this open hotel window.

Breathe it in. Like we are a lit cigarette
between crooked lips
and at any moment we could burn out,
we could set this town on fire,
we could lose it all.


This is the art of love:
it saves us, and then it kills us.
And still, we frame it— hang it on our wall
as if everyone couldn’t already see the colors bleeding.


Keep your hands steady, eyes up for the moment,
preparing you for a Divided Sky. You’ll be alone—
it was always the Devil’s Invention, brewing sadness
into something you loved the taste of. Tell me—are you drunk
off the dark, or just too addicted to the Absence of Light?


Weaving electric through our fingertips
hot needle in the night.
Fabric a black leather miniskirt in the passenger seat,
the pattern of how good it feels to be touched in the dark,
insatiable, my mouth all over you
can’t unfasten fast enough.

How it begins, rip of stitches, who can say
what causes the tear?
This is the way we unravel, come apart at the seams,
pull the string and watch it,
just watch it—
look how wildly the thread spins.


each night you crash into me, every morning after
I raise my white sails to the wind and surrender
again. this is where oceaned water becomes air,
how our bodies become the very last breath we drown in.


He calls me sunshine and I grin
knowing I am all rain,
a hurricane forming at the base of his mouth.
He says you should strip for me and I do:
I take off the notion that I belong to anyone.
I tattoo my name between the valley of his shoulder blades,
I burn him up with all my bright and beaming beauty.


Lather, lies, repeat.
Where do we hang thoughts up to dry? Who is there
to fold and put away our pain but ourselves?
What cycle is this?

If only we wouldn’t let our words gather
at the foot of the bed —
If only we could stay naked, dirty, and free.

Can we push it past gentle,
will we ever be ready
for the earth to stop spinning?

Maybe then we could trust ourselves
enough to undress this life together.


I only drink when I want to rage against love or make it.
Which is to say, always.


You loved me when the dawn folded like a white napkin in your lap & done was a four letter text
to let me know you’d be home from work in fifteen minutes / when the dirt lived hard &
comfortable under your nails & the smell of sweat from the day clung to you sweet like spring
rain / when I was unbroken, clean / the soul unchanging, the dead unflinching / back when the
country of your smile was a double wide bus / summers ago when the water scooped from your
soul the electric music like gold / before another man’s watch hid underneath the bed / keeping
time / before I bled on hotel bath towels / and now this is a pyramid of maybes stacked to the
sound of you saying nothing / this is how much I hate every part that you are / when I hold who
you were up to the light


I took the alphabet of my spine
to spell out how to stand up straight.
Gathered the bones fashioned from dust,
made a necklace stretching the length of the earth.
Fastened my tongue to kiss harder, longer
so I can taste everywhere beautiful I don’t know.
My breath took even God by surprise
the day that shredded stomach
became hunger for my own damn self.


I don’t know how we got to this place // where my name isn’t a word that always sleeps // safe
on your tongue // where the language of your strong hands translate evenly for hers // where love
is a four letter word for betrayal and my mind wants a room where you never owned a key to //
Measure this however you need to // understand //you can spell it like abandonment but pronounce it hurt // can’t you hear it sounded out? // can’t you see the context clues // silence
anchoring my tight chest to a dirt floor


So much suffocates like dust on the dashboard of your F-150
which is to say, some mornings I miss the sound of your engine starting
strong against that six a.m. sky.

But I never want to kiss you again.

I want the space back where you parked, parallel and hard,
the driver’s seat still warm, its tired interior
too knowing,
my heart
too lived-in.

Kara Knickerbocker

Listen to Kara reading ‘Redbird’ (7:01).


Kara Knickerbocker is the author of The Shedding Before the Swell (dancing girl press 2018) and Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press 2017). She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she works at Carnegie Mellon University, writes with the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University, and co-curates the MadFridays Reading Series. Find her online at

Notes: Section I is after Kim Addonizio’s “For You.”
Section IV was inspired from the  Four Hands Brewing Co. in St. Louis, MO. Part of section VII was published in Pink Panther Magazine.

© text and audio 2020