Three Poems by Sara Henning

Sara Henning

Sara Henning

Sara Henning is the author of the poetry collections Burn (Southern Illinois University Press, 2024), a 2022 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Editor’s Selection; Terra Incognita (Ohio University Press, 2022), winner of the 2021 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize; and View from True North (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award and the 2019 High Plains Book Award. She was awarded the 2019 Poetry Society of America's George Bogin Memorial Award. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Marshall University, where she coordinates the A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series. 

The Color of Ashes

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call, no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.”
—Tennessee Williams

When the day is a vixen, and I'm hard
as the egg she's raided from the nest's
broken bivouac, and the goose

now hissing into the wet marsh heat
can't stop wanting watercress, lily
petal's sweetly pungent decoy,

or the O of motherhood already
starving her, I think of the love
who tucked a photo of his mother

into the dash when he'd joyride,
how her supple neck shimmied
in the black dress's mouth,

because if he died, the last image
scorched into his mind is her face. 
But isn't it always this singe

of intimacy that swallows up
everything? Same love hiding
in the 7 Eleven bathroom

because if the cops found him
he'd spend the night in jail, bruises
he left on my body like the feral

oregano my grandmother threw her
wedding ring into after my grandfather
died, as though her desire

to set the house on fire wasn't her
own body burning, flower over
flower until pityingly beautiful,

she could name the lie of longing
the burning made it turn: rame,
jowl tendering the cluster,

as if to say hush, what's shivering
through this devout acceleration,
is simply waiting to be born.




Aubade with Starlings and What Serenely Disdains to Destroy Us

In your mouth I find the story of my body
you'll trade for a psalm to grow in the snow,
psalm you'll feed to starlings

as though they're caddis flies, lacewings,
each illicit seed of white sandalwood that
won't grow supple and unruly

in their guts, so I make you enter me
while I'm bleeding, because I'm calyx too,
iron slick chrysanthemum

blossom, and afterward, we won't talk
about your ex-wife's miscarriage, 
I won't ask how her pain was silky,

stark sugar, blackberry penetrating
the mattress, how she buried the memory
like a nest of frozen starlings,

so they might bloom dusk-stained,
terracotta, so they might rise, stout
and fledgling, back into the mouth

of winter.  You won't tell me that 
in order to save her you left her,
shame's cloying fortress is what shuts

a body down. Which is more brutal,
how our bodies begin and end
with equal intensity, burst apiary,

deluge of bramble, or how to avoid
drowning in our own honey, we learn
to let go?  When you turn away

from me too it's a kind of singing,
a psalm protruding, it's a bird eating
bees right off the ground.




Dead Reckoning

"...and in these same perilous seas, gropes he not his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log?"
—Herman Melville

The heart like a ship, needs a hard hand on the spar,
sharp spurn of wheel, just to stay cardinal, just to keep
from letting go: the moment the friend gives up

on her lover because she wants more than his tight Levi's
and lost jobs, too many afternoon's worth of burned verbs,
words chased to raw nests of hunger, daughter clinging

like a vine of honeysuckle to her thigh when he comes
into the room, because he is not her father. 
And what's the difference?  We all enter the world

as no one's angel, drunk on pain, expecting to be loved. 
Or maybe we look for other parts of our body
to speak our words.  Who could blame him

for shooting whiskey straight like a spindrift's discord,
it's one thing to want and another to be wanting,
and when she's had enough to heave trash bags

onto her porch so full of his things and her sorrow
they could have held dead bodies, he has the only
picture the girl ever drew for him tattooed on his calf-

a self-portrait, eyes like a caged mare's, shoulders
rising from the back like ships more beautiful
for their wreckage, to keep her. 

Perhaps leaving a body's fate to another's hands
make that body redeemable.  I look at my arms'
topography of suicide scars,  memory's usable map

to the meridian, same trough and ridge as the inky
curvature of the girl's face-tell me, is suffering
at the expense of another its own rapt truth? 

There was always a discord of grace between them,
the lovers I mean, not the ship broaching
an indifferent water, not my body

foregrounded from its tapestry of mistakes.
Truth is its own affection, the world between us
as tender as the world that won't embody us.