Sara Henning

The Body Worn Open, Whorling in Ceremony
by Sara Henning

i.

Blackout, 1990

My grandfather’s neurons are ferrying the story
of his body across dark water. But let’s begin
with citronella candles, mosquitoes haunting his bled
martini glass. Jags of heat-whelmed ice too sultry

not to thieve through the specular reflection,
spiral into a siege of light. I want to tell you
about the back deck takeout, honeysuckle
swathing the wood lap siding. His sesame chicken’s

blood orange cloy exit wounding from his mouth,
slicking his sweat-stained undershirt. I want to tell
you about his body going fetal, my egg roll

glinting in its tarn of oil. My grandmother’s leave
him
more poultice than curse. But I’m already heaving
what’s left of him through the sliding glass door.

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ii.

Jungle Gym, 1990

I’m heaving what’s left of him through the sliding
glass door, not slashing at honeysuckle, not twining
this bone yard of lapsed fear into the story
of my body. I want to tether myself to an aperture

that will ask: where does it carry us? Ladder to storm
shorn slide, monkey bars I’m too old to sidle
through, metal scrapping me into half-moon
as I descend, lissome as dandelion floret,

hang from my knees? A fury of rust now, I trust
the galvanized pipes, my grandfather mooring
their fever into holes, hurrying concrete over

red clay. I’m not content to sway here, raptured
by gravity, my own numb fury. My grandmother’s
given what’s left of his dinner to the dogs.

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iii.

My grandmother’s given what’s left to the dogs.
His blackouts are tiger lilies, bells she cuts
at an angle before she mercies them with aspirin,
penny in the nadir of a vase. His blackouts,

the vase of burnt orange turncoats she won’t
crush with her heel just to watch the sepals coil
and blush, the stamens split with each glitter of glass.
Outside, cicadas handfast to willow fronds,

not the sieve of her anger, bodies closing in
on themselves, hatching and plunging. Cicadas numb
and slick as the potstickers my grandfather

won’t recall how to grip with chopsticks at the last
birthday lunch he’ll outlive. I’m thirty then.
The man I loved and hated is already dead.

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iv.

Korsakoff’s Dementia, Hibachi Grill, 2010

The man I loved and hated is already dead.
At his birthday lunch he’s only marrowed
to a long gone recall, deadlocking his chopsticks
into a potsticker’s oil-conjured skin.

It’s not the cicada he slit esophagus to ganglion
with his mother’s nail file because it was wings
down in gutter water, and he wanted its hymn
to unpetal in his hands. Fingers feral with plasma

and throat call. Now, his neurons like the refrain
unfurling from the tympanic muscle of a creature
born to yield its body to a beautiful harm—

nymphal instar sloughing its skin, eggs scarred
into the womb of a tree. Now, his palms misfire
the serving platter. Now his lingering animal cry.

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v.

His palms misfiring the serving platter,
or his lingering animal cry? Tell me the story
of the body we carry with us, suture me
in its fierce iridescence. The story of butterfly koi

in the lobby fountain, teasing the water
or enticing his devotion—caudal fins sleek
and filmy as calico negligées—after the potstickers
he’s flung strike the triptych absorbing

my stare: demoiselle cranes inked into silk,
feathers blushing with river froth. Chrysanthemums
shrouding their napes. I want a memory

this inconsolable—glass, not koi or flower
head, flecking the water’s wounding. Shame miming
the undulation, now glitzing in the spume.

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vi.

Flashback

Not shame that mimes the undulation, now glitzing
in the spume, but memory that lashes, then weaves
me, into his brutal chemical circuit. But rapture
trailing his gaze over water. He tears his napkin

at the restaurant table. Slits of paper, shards
aligning, while my mother tenders the bill. I watch
his muscle memory, the table constellating under
his grasp: Southern Cross, Ursa Major.

Then his flashback—Air Force sergeant, Aleutian
Islands, muscles mapping the crusade. His body
bright with another burning—memory traces,

not bay doors splayed in the fuselage. Oblivion,
bombs surging through longitude. His neurons
like oleanders stretching their petals through ash.

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vii.

1924-2010

His neurons are oleanders stretching their petals
through ash, moving beneath him like the beginning
of the world. So let’s start with fringed corolla,
narrow lanceolate, downy seeds settling on the faces

of the dead. Let’s start with his buckskin recliner,
the way I’m sheathing his blacked-out shoulders
in chenille, coiling my legs around him, his tangle
of oleander ferrying us both into dusk.

I don’t know there’s already a river seething,
riptide and opulent, within him, a river baptizing
him in dark water. I only know to purge

my lungs of the tree-scarred matrix of anger
and longing until its singing I drown in, not his body.
I only know to dive until I’m new.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 17, Issue 3.

Sara HenningSara 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). Currently a doctoral student at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

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