Distress Signals by Kip Knott

Distress Signals

                inspired by the artwork of Aron Wiesenfeld

                “There is a lot of darkness that people are confronting
                right now . . . . All people are like prisms, with internal
                characteristics, through which the world is filtered.”
                       —Aron Wiesenfeld


When I was a child I sailed
toy ships in the drainage ditch
beneath the looming overpass
that ran behind our house.

Tires speeding through puddles
overhead channeled crashing waves
that I imagined smashed against the hull
tied to the end of my line.

Breaching eighteen-wheeled
leviathans shook the world around me,
rippling rings of greasy rainbows
from one shore to the next.

Above everything, I heard my parents
shouting, not for me to come in,
but at each other, the way thunder yells
at lightning for flashing too bright.

To this day I still don’t know
if I was the one guiding the ship,
or if an otherworldly stowaway
had thrown a line to me

and I was waiting for someone
to pull me in, to pull me under.


It’s easy enough to step that one step forward and fall
endlessly away from the troubles that trouble the world
around me, around you, around us all.

To take that one step away from the edge and fall
back into all the divisions and ills that plague this world,
that step is the hardest step of all.

Whichever way I choose to move I know that I will fall
upon a high wire stretched between the precipice of a world
I will come to know all in all

and the precipice of a world that every day seems ready to fall.


The sight of my reflection
waving from the cell of a mirrored
windowpane stops me in my tracks
as I walk alone to work.

I wave back. My reflection
motions for me to join him.
Over both our heads, dark clouds
shift and churn in opposite directions.

Before I take another step, I must
decide if the blood that broken glass
will draw from shredded flesh
is worth the chance to learn

who lives on the other side of who I am.


We occupy a liminal space.
One of us stands, the other sits. We exist

together, apart,

not quite shadows, not quite

exist as both the same and other,

reversed, opposite.

One of us stands, the other sits. We exist
in an endless liminal space.


I have sometimes posed
myself in a final repose
just to know the shape of death.

And now, after years
of loneliness, I am too weak
to lift my head to see

if any pose I ever struck
actually matched the contours
of my body as I slowly

drift away.


Kip Knott’s first collection of short stories, Some Birds Nest in Broken Branches, is available from Alien Buddha Press. His most recent full-length book of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is available from Kelsay Books. You can follow him on Twitter at @kip_knott and read more of his writing at kipknott.com.


I would like to offer my thanks to Aron Wiesenfeld for creating the powerful and evocative artwork that inspired this poem. The following five paintings were particularly inspirational:

· “Study” (2020)
· “The Pit” (2019)
· “Morning” (2002)
· “Hallway” (1999)
· “Chris McCandless” (2003)