Surrounded By What Bleeds
by Kara Knickerbocker
When Ryan shot his first deer, my father hung it by its hooves from the rafters in the basement, taught him how to gut it. The scarlet river coursed out of its open body, onto the cement floor until my dad hosed it down the drain. The shock of it swinging is still enough to drown me.
My mother bought me a red necklace when I was thirteen. A gift to welcome me to womanhood. She said she thought the color was appropriate. She came home, armed with boxes of pads of varying thickness, ones with and without wings. I wanted to use them to fly to some other body where I didn’t feel this slickness between my legs. Didn’t have crimson stains in my underwear, wet in that dizzying and unfamiliar smell.
There is a name for how I got the mark above my left eye. Excoriation. I have squeezed, popped, ripped open every part of me. Scratched until my t-shirts were splotched and my fingertips tinted that red-orange. I expected the bleeding would happen; picked at scabs so much that the white scars are reminders of everything that has hurt me. I wear them like I chose them for this body. Nobody tells you about the itch of healing.
In the backyard my niece mixes blues, yellows, and reds under a Florida sun. A streak here, a great blob there. They drip drop down the canvas, splatter the blades of grass below. She watches it happen, and then pulls her hand back too quickly. The bright cruel cut curves into a smile. The paper wears her shade of lifeblood red. Not even three years old, she is already learning to not trust what is safe, that even the prettiest colors can bleed.
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Kara Knickerbocker is a poet and writer from Pennsylvania and the author of The Shedding Before the Swell (Dancing Girl Press, 2018) and Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her most recent poetry and essays have been published or are forthcoming in print and online publications including: Cabildo Quarterly, The Laurel Review, and the anthology Voices from the Attic Vol XXII. She lives in Pittsburgh where she works at Carnegie Mellon University, writes with the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University, and co-curates the MadFridays Reading Series.