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.
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).