SD Poets You Should Know: Sara Henning

She’s not going to be a South Dakotan much longer, because she got a teaching gig in Texas, so I thought I’d give a shoutout to Sara Henning while she’s still our neighbor! I’m particularly fond of her poem “The Color of Ashes,” available at The Superstition Review:

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.

This is a fierce poem that seems to me to be in part about an inheritance, or at least a reoccurrence, of domestic violence. The speaker begins with an image for a rough day, as if she’s an egg stolen by a fox, and describes what that feeling of victimization, or at least vulnerability, makes her remember—“the love” who “bruise[d]” the speaker and is wanted by the cops, but who also carries a photo of his mother on his dashboard. The particular attention to the complexities of all the people here is one of my favorite qualities of this poem, and of course I love its lush language, too, particularly “the lie of longing / the burning made it turn,” that great alliteration of “lie of longing” and consonance of “burning” and “turn.” Those lines prepare you for both the I and u sounds in “jowl tendering the cluster.” I also enjoy the affirmation of the vulnerable, which I take to be meant by “what’s shivering,” in the last line—it “is simply waiting to be born,” an inchoate power.


Featured image by Craig Bennett, under the creative commons license at Flickr. Post by Barbara Duffy

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