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Poetry: "Knowing" by Kay Kestner


I have read the names of ghosts written on your back. 

In the evenings, I kiss each one goodnight. 

You keep your son’s broken heart locked in the  

curve of your left side.  Your right shoulder prays  

I will be his new mother.  A volume of painful 

poems fills the back of your hand, spilling 

into your cracked knuckles.  Your fingers refuse 

to write.  And every muscle in your legs  

is pushing the broken and the dead  

up and out of their graves. 


You recognize the faces of tortured women  

trapped in the lower part of my abdomen. 

You have met my lost brothers through 

the ripples of my ribs across my heart. 

You know the courage in the curve of my spine. 

You know my knees have betrayed me many times. 

You wish you had been there to catch me. 


We have navigated our histories  

and mapped it all out on our bodies, 

knowing each other so well  

that skin becomes nothing more 

than a thin transparency  

that we can never again 

hide behind.

Kay Kestner’s work has appeared in journals since the early 1990s. She is a screenwriter, poet, and prose writer. Her work is an unapologetic combination of gentle grace and raw reality. She is the founder and former editor of Poetry Breakfast and has led writing workshops through the Ministry of Artistic Intent and at The New Jersey Poetry and Arts Barn. You can find more information about her work at

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