Kara Knickerbocker

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the poet

Kara Knickerbocker is the author of chapbooks The Shedding Before the Swell and Next to Everything that is Breakable. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Poet Lore, HOBART, Levee Magazine and Portland Review, as well as in Pennsylvania’s Best Emerging Poets and Crack the Spine's Anthology: The Year 2020. A Best of the Net nominee, Kara has received support with her work from Murphy Writing at Stockton University, Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and the Gullkistan Center in Iceland. She currently lives in Pennsylvania, where she writes with the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University. Kara also co-curated the MadFridays Reading Series.

the poems

If You're Asking
Why I'm Leaving

00:00 / 00:42

        Because this row of brick houses ghosts with heads on backwards,

        because my skin sleeps under your nailbeds,

        because there isn’t a color red I’ve loved since the car crash.


        Because even birds fly south, and

        because without wings, your lips travel down just the same because I let you,

        because religion was the well-oiled machine of our bodies.


        Because thoughts of a baby’s open mouth,

        because I am egg yolk,

        Because I cannot imagine anything more breakable than if I stay.

Etymology of
a Middle Name

After Airea D Matthews

00:00 / 01:16

            Rose— of Latin origin, rosa, meaning fragrant flower,

            meaning my mother bloomed with me until I came out,

            pink & right for the world, the last precious baby

            dangling on the branch of our family tree, because after

            my brother & before me there was a seed that only bled

            where it was planted, never grew into a face, or name,

            & they crowned me Rosie, because my cheeks flush redder

            than they should be from petaling my way back to the womb,

            drunk-blushed attempts to stay long-stemmed, always wild &

            because a daughter is a beautiful thing, my mother tells me,

            though I know the letters sound more lovely in her mouth.

            O, Rose that grew from the concrete, rose into a woman—

            I wonder if she will ever accept there are thorns around my hips

            not by nature but by my own doing, if she fully knows

            I’ve buried bouquets from lovers because what other pretty hurt

            do you know that both stalks the living & adorns all the dead?

Show Me How
to Trace This

00:00 / 01:08

            & if you had a map out of your body, where would it go?

            What is the point of exit you’d choose to leave yourself?


            I’d choose the wounds already claimed:

            the fried egg-shaped scar burned above my left knee,

            my crooked pointer finger like an almost question mark,

            or better yet straight from the new titanium heart—

            where a stranger sleeps at the wheel, keeping time.


            That slicing open drove me into questions I still can’t answer,

            like where is the intersection of my own skin & all that hides

            underneath? How to steer away from the bump in the road

            that lives in my chest, unmake detours into strange tomorrows.


            Pulse lines are wires that got crossed along the way & now

            I need a key to a home I’ve already lost.


            These blue veins were never routes that would carry me there.


            All the rivers I’ve known are muddied,

            emptying into the mouth of someone else.

Publishing credits

If You're Asking Why I'm Leaving: Pittsburgh Poetry Review

Etymology of a Middle Name: Kissing Dynamite

Show Me How to Trace This: Sampsonia Way Magazine