Winter Skin


Out of stock

poems by

Robert Lee Kendrick

ISBN: 978-1-59948-574-4, 42 pages, cover price: $11

Release date: June 7, 2016

RLKendrick_bookstoreRobert Lee Kendrick grew up in Illinois and Iowa, but now calls South Carolina home. After earning his M.A. from Illinois State University and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, he held a number of jobs, ranging from house painter to pizza driver to grocery store worker to line cook. He now lives in Clemson with his wife and their dogs. His poems appear in Louisiana Literature, South Carolina Review, Kestrel, The James Dickey Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Main Street Rag, and elsewhere.

Robert Lee Kendrick’s poems transport the reader into the deep, dark souls of his narrators, but the elegance of his language gives the poems a rough, hard-earned grace. Winter Skin marks the debut of a very talented poet. –Ron Rash


Robert Lee Kendrick’s Winter Skin is an important debut, a collection brusque and headlong, unflinching and tense. More often than not, these poems explore what it means to be a human, but they achieve the sublime by acknowledging the beauty that flows under and through even the most harrowing of circumstances. Indeed, Kendrick’s poems are potent and strange because they nearly always fuse the natural world with the detritus of human condition, poems in which “headlights slash… through the purple morning dark.” This collection is beautiful for its honesty and clarity. –William Wright, Author of Tree Heresies and Night Field Anecdote; Series Editor, The Southern Poetry Anthology


We know it’s more than a house with “cracks in the foundation/I can’t repair.” We know, too, that surviving the shifts and blows that bring about these cracks help us see in them the splinters of light that carry us forward. That’s the gift that Robert Kendrick’s poems and their bruised cast of characters offer us. — Patrick Culliton,  Author of Hornet Homily and Horse Ballast

I used to work in a slaughterhouse


& learned the value of a sharp knife
to sculpt flesh into something useful
what’s the use of a rank & file steer
stuffing grain down his heavily medicated gut
hitting the end of the day trough with a few thousand pals
until it’s his turn to hit the line
clock in with a bolt through the forehead
let the process make something of him
one slice at a time

same thing for some rock star angus scoring some grass
surrounded by more green than you see in a month of lawns
I drive by those big suckers every day
taking my son home from elementary school
& every time he says moo inside the car I want to stop
hold him with one hand & point to cattle with the other
say livestock bobby live-stock
then add something like what’s the point of sentience
when you’re domesticated
& in this economy we’re all just value-adding units
so he could lay that on his fourth grade teacher
& have a solid freak rep
at least until middle school

or I could help him under barbed wire & through bull crap
walk him over near one & point towards the carotid
say this is where you have to cut
it drains quickly & anyway they’re brain dead
after a few days it’s automatic
& ye the multitudinous fields incarnadine
because what would you rather owe for your education
blood or money

who am I kidding
I would never say that to my son

drawing a knife across a steer’s neck was never automatic
& I hated the taste of coins in my mouth
as I breathed in the blood
& I hated the dry ferment of dirt & shit
that clung to their hooves
the thick hanging tongues that hung from their mouths
& the eyes like sludge water in potholes
& I quit after a couple of months still broke

I don’t know if I’ll ever tell that to my kid
so when bobby makes his cow sound
I furrow my brow as bovinely as possible
take my hands off the wheel
put my horns on
& moo


 Solvent Can


Easy to get what he wanted,
at first. Anhydrous ammonia
siphoned from farm storage
in night fog & chill, legs & hands
shaking as he filled the fat
turquoise tank. Antifreeze
jugs stolen one at a time, each
wrapped in a fraying black hoodie
when his manager took
ten-minute trips to the john.
Lithium from batteries
cut with a razor & opened
with needle nose pliers to peel
the shimmering metal strips,
Psuedoephedrine smurfed
by the kid with the tar paper mouth.

Easy to get what he wanted,
a gutted out trailer on Love & Care
Road tucked back on a curve
of gravel, surrounded by scrub
oak & pine. Windows painted
black & sealed from the inside
with trash bags & duct tape.
Red spiral rings that glowed
on the stove as his hoses
crept over counters and floor
to make the rough crystals.
A diamond mine in a kitchen.

Easy to get what he wanted.
A flicker of static, a low voltage
kiss to charged air. A bouquet of flames.
A good tweeker barbeque. Plastic
& rubber turned lip curling smoke.
His skin & bones become char.
Not much left but the trailer’s
scorched shell. An old propane tank
in the back. A few aerosols.
This solvent can, empty,
tossed a few yards into the woods,
almost as spotless as the day
it was dropped in a Walmart cart.

Driving Across Georgia, I Stop at the Remains of a Topless Diner


Not one 2 x 4 left. Wild grass
& creepers twist glossy knots
through the concrete, beer bottle
shards catch sparks of glare
where the dining room was.

Ten years ago, I stopped here
at three in the morning.
I’d been dumped by a girl
for wasting her money, & the road
from Virginia was so damned
dark I started believing an asphalt sky
& a broken radio were as good
as things were going to get.
Biscuits & tits. Why the hell not.

A blacksnake hide dries
where a girl wrapped her legs
around a chromed pole
that night & let her hair drop.

One man watched. Unshaven
cheek in his palm, slow menthol
curl from his lips. Ten hours of highway
behind him. He stopped to see women
& sleep in his truck alone.
No beds. No booze. No touching.
A dark place for a man’s eyes to glide
over smooth thighs & hips,
feel flood waters rise under skin.

The booths smelled of men’s sweat
& pine cleaner. The waitress’s work
name was Misty. Double shift curve
to her back. Belly scar catching
a finger of light.  Rose vine tattoo
wreathing one breast. Two feet
between us like a canyon.
She pulled out her g-string
for the tip, offered her patch
of dark mossy hairs to hold money.
I left the bills on the table.

I won’t say I was decent.
Decent men drove to the pancake house
where they’d throw a man out
for staring at waitresses’ breasts,
for saying he’s got a dollar
to give that fine ass,
Where everyone could see
from outside that it was quiet & light
& no one was treated badly.

They should tear up what remains
of the concrete, let the plants
do their work. Let field rats & snakes
make their nests. Enough time
& wind will clear this away.
Even the ground can grow a new skin.

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