Sara Henning is the author of the full-length collection of poetry A Sweeter Water (2013), as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2012). Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin, and the Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.
Festival of Language events: 2013 Milwaukee M/MLA, 2014 Seattle AWP
Home From College
we’re Van Gogh nudes—
flecks of unruly color.
I don’t mistake you
for a flower’s
Some art historians
claim after a fencing
foible, Van Gogh
covered the place
where his Gaugin cut him
with a lie
they believed it.
the consoling cigarette
from between my fingers,
to your lips instead.
Where I put my mouth,
This is not why
I give him your number—
your old crush
rushing me in Kroger.
His smile says
home on leave,
not I’ll drive her to the woods
at the end of town.
I’ll tell her to take off her clothes.
Some say after a fight
Van Gogh cut off his ear,
in newspaper, gave it
For Jaycee Lee Dugard, missing June 10, 1991-August 25, 2009
A girl walking toward the bus stop.
A stun gun mortgaging her body.
We’re eleven, she lives where US 50
and State Route 89 are undone by each
other, where mountains, sharp
and sinuous, blemish the soil.
Where I’m from, wounds are incognito
from raptures of dirt. I’m on a school
field trip, my shoulder enduring
the easy clutch of a woman’s hand.
Vending machine Pepsi, coins
salvaged from her purse. Her husband
reassuring me he will deliver me home.
Not far. No trouble. A couple’s
cuffing her, shunting her
into their car. Before I slink into
the backseat, my teacher throttles
towards me. What follows—wife
thrusting me onto asphalt, car bolting,
soda can hitting hard, sticky
effervescence staining my blouse.
Eighteen years later, she’s telling
her story. I know this because I know
how a car’s rear seat leather
clutches like the skein
of a plucked dahlia, how blackout
cossets before it overwhelms.
A man first consoling me, then taking
what he wants. The car rocking back
and forth like this in my memory,
neither whole nor vanishing.
And everywhere around me, license
plate numbers distorted by the sun.
The Art of Drowning, The Art of War
When her girlfriend
pretended to be ransomed
by water, my ten-year-old
mother dove after
the luster of bathing suit
breaching a reckless
tide, blonde hair sheening
like a jellyfish pulses
in flotsam and milky lacquer.
The girl’s laugh
like a cleaving oyster.
My mother still under her,
spitting up shame and spume.
Every unburied delta
that moved through her body
became a torrent
disgracing her starboard.
Every lover exploiting her
water’s plush vertigo, a lesson in
shells that sliver her toes.
Like her, I’ll learn to hold
my breath until I’m grit
and glitter, cull and foam.
Until I confuse love
for mooring, the horizon’s
not one more ruthless pull.
Other Planets, Other Stars
At the shooting range, my mother and aunt
single out pistols. Set aside an hour to palm
the grip of unversed steel, trigger guard, every
barrel’s delicately latticed gorge. After, they
inundate targets at their Chakra points, first
head, then heart. Flare after flare penetrating
paper. Astronomers say that only one in five
stars like the sun host an earth-sized world,
but I can’t stop thinking of the smaller planets,
gaunt and mysterious, little martyrs of rock
accelerating in circuit, wondering what’s to come.
I’m quarantined in the lobby, a pair of muffs
swathing my ears, not old enough to fear men
who swagger through unlocked doors.
How my mother slips a hand under the bed skirt
night after night, discerning metal from ruche.
Not every world has the girth to sashay against
gravity, so it hoards what it can. Sixteen,
I’m razoring my name into the wind-shield
of my -ex’s car, crushing days-old eggs
into his upholstery. Eighteen, my aunt’s lover
is loosening a lug nut, her Jeep flipping over
the highway’s soft shoulder. I’m an alibi
for salvage, not a bevy of stone. Watch me
riot through air, magma spilling out of me.
My Kepler data studded with holes.
You Explain the Word Apocalypse to Me
You’re saying, my sister is wasting
her heart, but I want you to begin
with the same age grafts easiest
to the chest. Want to feel her heart
turn on her, creamy drupe of contagion,
stifle her ten-year-old body.
The fireworks accident, her donor
burning desire’s jagged stump
to the ground. Doctors, then
the exchange of one exultant failure
for another. And afterward, how
she remains a wound without
the pleasure of a scar. Do the dead
boy’s parents keep his room
untouched? Tell me everything
you know. Answer me with what’s
left of us. Breach. Rift. The heart’s
most predictable paradox. How your
sister smells sulfur when the earth
heaves at first thaw.