Three Poems by Stephanie Kendrick

Right at Home

Inside an olive-green house on coal ridge
everything dies and floats as ash
like dust the train kicks up and delivers.

Inside you might hold your breath
unless you love the way stale cigar smoke
flows through sinus trails and hides

inside your chest. Here is where it lingers,
the sound of tracks trembling, the smell
of something always about to burn. 

Inside each room footprints scale the walls,
fade before they reach the ceiling. Listen
to the spirit fists pounding to escape.

Inside your own fists, the vibration
of knuckle and palm, the white noise 
that helped you sleep until morning. Listen

inside the back of your own throat, the screams
you gulped down, locked away in your own attic
inside that olive-green house on coal ridge.

Mad Women

Look all the way to the fingertips, abused
by our own mouths. So many people
are the tips of our fingers, chewed raw
until it hurts to hold anything.

We are the palms of outstretched hands. 
How many women can fit here, balanced
on lines that stretch from knuckle to wrist?

We are dew drops on a gum tree leaf. 
Can you see your smile in here?
See the way we move so we won’t disrupt
our surface tension that holds us
here. So many people, these reflections,
staying so still, trying not to burst.

Look again at the fingertips, rough edges
calloused to the core. So many people
are the hardened skin of our hands, stripped bare

only to heal again and again until nothing else
gets through. We are fists of overflowing arms. 
How many of you have felt this heat,
synapse sparks that spew like lava from your mouth?
We are the spikes on a honey locust tree.
Can you find a way to hold us, anyway?
Sharp and ready, we wait for unsuspected touch,
blanket the ground with the dead that falls from us.

We share these parts of ourselves with you,
beg you to rip them out, smile
as you carry them away. 

The Morning After a Storm

Silent wind whisps carry
clouds and cardinals’ arias. 

Half-drowned worms 
under fallen nests breathe relief, exhale.

Steam floats away from our chests. 
Overhead, a pale blue hovers, 

as though nothing happened—
no home destroyed,
no worm swollen under a sorried auroral sun, 
no tree stripped bare.

Certainty found trapped in dew 
or beads of sweat that drip down our backs, 
sizzle on the spine. 

Early clouds cannot say it, 
 but birds harmonize forgiveness.

My hand rises with their song, 
catches your tears in its palm. 

Stephanie Kendrick
is the author of Places We Feel Warm (Main Street Rag, 2021). Her poems have appeared in Sheila-Na-Gig Online, Women of Appalachia Project’s Women Speak Volumes 4, 5, & 6, Ghost City Review, Northern Appalachia Review, and elsewhere. She co-hosts Athens County’s (Ohio) Thursday Night Open Mic.