A Poem 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. 

Immortelles (2016) 

University Cancer and Blood Center, Athens, GA

You could be a movie star, Mother, 
          the way you turn heads in your leather jacket, 

                     rouge as the throat of a Satin Rose of Sharon.
                     You float in low stilettos, your Audrey Hepburn eyes 

          refracting the cancer center’s halo chandeliers. 
Even dying, you chase radiance like Sundays 

at Macy’s jewelry counter where six, 
I’d trace my name onto gold-etched glass 

                     with my fingers, my left-handed D’Nealian 
                     a hoodoo legacy of letters I’ll never master. 

          Manic, you’d slip your wrists 
through cinnabar cloisonne, cherry blossoms threading

your valley of bones. You’d stack 
          infinity bands over fingers that never blazed

                     with my father’s ring. Instead, you offer up
                     your Mastercard to the suspicious clerk, 

          cut her a look that says I’m worth it.
I’m good for it. I’ve memorized the cache 

of bounced checks you shred 
          when you think I’m not looking, 

                     pink eviction notices our landlord tapes to the door.
                     Now, cancer’s aging you backward. 

          Under your Cardani wig, platinum roots 
shoot from your scalp, smooth as a razored Pixie. 

A nurse calls you, syphons blood from your chemo 
          port to test for tumor markers, whisks us 

                     to the room where we’ll wait an hour 
                     for your oncologist to say there’s nothing more  

          he can do. Before he leaves, he’ll call the clinic 
social worker you’ll ice into silence with your gaze. 

Before hospice, before liver necrosis electrifies 
          your skin, you’re a queen sleeping through episodes 

                     of Days of Our Lives. You’d like your reign 
                     to be immortal. The French call them immortelles

          cactus dahlias, Nigella seed-heads, lotus pods 
I’ve only dreamed of draping from basement rafters, 

flowers like women opening their chakras 
          in Kundalini poses. I’ve only dreamed of teasing 

                     their stems into Chihuly-like installations, 
                     vasing their fire to cure my winter blues. 

          But you, Mother? You’ll always be Scabiosa,
that pink mist wildflower angular 

                     in your velour bathrobe, your bones 
          like origami geometry as you lounge and smoke.

If looks could kill, God help the soul of every
          damn fool who loved you (God, how I loved you).