Excerpt from Unknowable Things by Kerry Trautman

Because, Brian

I liked you at first, because your dad fixed a flat on my mom’s Pontiac in his robe, and because of your black jelly bean eyes and big-toothed laugh, and because you almost almost rubbed my thigh. But I bought off-the-shoulder homecoming velvet for someone else, because of your seaweed smell, because of the taste of our one kiss—wet with salts of sweat and Fritos, because it was October and you were nothing, because we were sixteen.


Was it cruel to have lured the stray cat
these weeks closer to my fingertips,
to teach him petting?

It was a new thing—involuntary
joy on skin terms.
Fur can’t help that it’s reached-for.

When I had asked the older boy’s sister
for his number
she warned
he’s sometimes not nice to girls.

The cat cries at the door now
for more than just a bowl of food.

The boy was patient with me,
clasping my button fly.
It was a new thing—him hearing wait.
It was a new thing—me being clambered-upon.

Small bodies should be born
knowing what
love feels like on skin terms.

Nights are long
with only wind smoothing haunches.
Is it worth it to crouch,
inch forward toward the dish of a palm?

If this doesn’t work,
he warned himself and me and unknown others,
I’ll go back to the way I was.

Purring is involuntary, internal.
Claws are internal except
when they are externalized.

What rule did I break by ending it?
What reward did I owe his try at patience?
What continuance do fingertips owe other skin?

Is heartbreak more or less
humane than starvation?

Body as Bird as Body

As a wren, she shrunk into shrubbery.
But not as wren—
no brief wings to shudder skyward.

As a starling, she insinuates herself
into murmurations, a lost-ness of black
on blue on black on blue.

As a barn owl, imperceptible
shadows in rafters.
But not as owl—not sparing the meat.

As a heron, twiggy stillness
sculpturing, obvious above
duckweed and cattails.

As a peahen, beige
full of eggs
behind blue fans of eyes.

As a wren, air barely
exerts beneath.
But not as a wren—of soil.

Store-bought Cookies

She ate oversweet cookies enough
to be ashamed of, thinking,
Damn him. Him just one more thing
to be unsure of—like the false
alarm of foreboding clouds,
the symmetry or not of butterflies’ wings,
the doneness of a baking
breadloaf’s deepest soft insides.

These cookies, she knew.
These crumbs sanding her cleavage,
these chocolate chips re-softened
by her lips’ heat,
these sweet starches brittle
between her teeth,
these things she knew
when confronted with them,

with their uniform rows
nestled in their plastic tray.
She knew how to slit open the wrapping,
knew how many would satisfy,
how many would make her feel ill,
how they felt inside her—
the same each
and every time.

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Ohio born and raised, Kerry Trautman is a founder of ToledoPoet.com and the “Toledo Poetry Museum” page on Facebook, which promote Northwest Ohio poetry. Her work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and journals, including Slippery Elm, Free State Review, Mock Turtle Zine, Paper & Ink, Disappointed Housewife, Limp Wrist, Midwestern Gothic, and Gasconade Review. Kerry’s books are Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press 2012,) To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press 2015,) Artifacts (NightBallet Press 2017,) To be Nonchalantly Alive (Kelsay Books 2020,) and Marilyn: Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas (Gutter Snob Books 2022.)

Unknowable Things is a breathtaking collection of poetry by Kerry Trautman that explores the depths of the human experience with stark honesty and unflinching candor. Through evocative and powerful language, Trautman masterfully crafts the weight of human existence into poetry that is universal, self-reflective, and sincerely beautiful.

Each poem in this collection is a testament to Trautman’s skill at pulling deeper meaning out of the everyday ordinary, and her words are written with a smooth, polished, and tender touch. From start to finish, “Unknowable Things” is seamless, with not a word wasted or misplaced.

This collection is perfect for readers who are looking for poetry that speaks to the human condition in a powerful and relatable way. Whether you are an avid reader of poetry or new to the genre, we hope that these words will resonate with you and leave a lasting impression on your heart. So take a moment to slow down and savor each verse, allowing the rhythm and imagery to transport you to a world of introspection and self-discovery. We hope you will find solace and inspiration in these pages, and that you will return to them again and again as you navigate your own journey through the mysteries of the human experience.

Unknowable Things is seamless start to finish. Not a word wasted, or misplaced. No splinters. Each poem written with stark honesty, unflinching, yet smooth, polished and tender. Trautman masters the art of pulling deeper meaning out of the everyday ordinary, and effortlessly crafts the weight of human existence into poetry that is universal, self-reflective and outright beautiful.”—Dan Denton, author of Finding Jesus & Prayers to my Saints

Unknowable Things reads as if you’re holding a personal notebook that has somehow accidently been misplaced, only to wind up in your hands. Should you be reading Kerry Trautman’s personal notebook? Yes? No? You know, they say that there is excitement and enjoyment that comes from doing things that you know you shouldn’t do…so do it…get excited and enjoy how Trautman writes with a laid bare honesty that’s crafted and at times sharp enough to cut deep to the bone, like a sliver of a broken mirror that we can all see small pieces of our own reflections in. Trust me, it’s a beautiful thing.”—Victor Clevenger, author of 47 Poems

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