National Poetry Month – Robert Lee Kendrick

Robert and I finally met when he came to read during our local monthly reading and open mic. When I saw the cover of his book, Winter Skin, I had a feeling I’d like his poetry. The cover shot is a rural snow-covered road – a wintry scene I grew up with in Ohio. And I was right about his poetry.

Robert sees both the brokenness and the beauty of humanity, from the depths of drug abuse to the sweet rhythms of street music. In the Midwest’s practical, matter-of-fact language, each word holds weight and adds punch. He takes you from abandoned factories to ball fields, where pick-up games last until the crack of the bat fades into twilight.

From Winter Skin, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

out of season

down sassafras mountain

a blind turn opens

to a deer’s rib cage on the yellow line

waiting under the moon like two skinned hands

cupped in offering & warm with august heat


someone has the meat & the pointed rack

some ground is strewn with the offal & lungs

& this has been dumped for coyotes & dogs

or to send surprised faces through windshields

someone wants the baring of teeth


kneeling in the bent

humid glare of my headlights

breathing sour metal

of blood & sweat

I hook my fingers around rank

pink flesh  & drag this ark

of an unholy covenant

into the ditch off the shoulder

the poacher’s altar boy

taking care of the elements


when I rub my hands with a rag

they ripple like troubled water

& traces of blood musk

breathe my part in this kill

they will be my companions

for the dark miles home

& the scavenger mouths

that know nothing out of season

will gnaw rough graces from bone


Shadow Ball

We chucked a Louisville Slugger over the fence,

barrel & handle turning end over end

to cut the sunlight in uneven lops

before it tumbled to ground.

Four feet of chain link hopped. Cooler

& boom box handed over, Olde English 800

& black leather angels on homemade cassettes.

Late evening haze hung over

the outfield & pitcher’s mound

shimmered with heat crawling dirt.

We could sneak an hour

before sunset. Over at the plate

& four in the field, heads still spinning

from basement Black Sabbath,

we played with our lengthening shadows.

No helmets. No umpire. Malt liquor

tilted Lincoln High field to our slant,

a can per man to put more bite

on cutters & curves, to blur hops

& liners & hang oracle pop ups

close to the moon, red stitched Sputniks

leaving town for longer than we could.

Three years gone from black pinstripes

& Ls on our caps. Racetrak & Kroger shirts

all day, pizza delivery Highway Stars

at night. Twilight baseball between.

Two strikes down, we’d call long shots

& swing from the heels & foul them straight

back. No keeping score, no way to win,

nothing to lose but a few stolen balls,

just hang in & hack while you can.

When buzzed luck met muscle memory,

northern ash launched white leather

high through the darkening deep blue

& rose, a long hyperbola into the trees.


street music

summer stars left our names

off the marquee moon

as renuka’s congas & matt the cat’s bass

opened the locks for a river of groove

fat tino’s trumpet

skipped ricochet cuts

& leapt to the sky

as ‘toine’s tenor sax hugged

the muddy bank’s funk

pulling the brass back to earth

I threw swamp flowers down

comping chords on my guitar’s rosewood neck

& john firefly rapped from the sidewalk

calling all down to our river

baptizing with baraka & MOVE

& mad dog 20 20 was his meat

the town of normal gave us wide berth

so we played for june heat & streetlights

let the water rise over our heads

small sidewalk trees did their slow juke

& we swung with the shadows of leaves on our skin

out of season was previously published in Stonecoast Review. Shadow Ball was previously published in San Pedro River Review. street music was previously published in The Main Street Rag.


Robert answers my questions ~

I wrote my first poem when I was 41 from a prompt I found on the web, 2008. The prompt was to write a poem about a mythological character. I chose Icarus. Illuminations picked it up. Sheer blind beginners luck

I’d like to have a cup of coffee with Richard Hugo. Coffee to keep him from the alcohol 😉


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