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09-11-2019

Sara Henning 

FIRST MURMURATION

 

When I say a son

broken open by his father

 

is becoming a starling,

I mean feathers are unfurling

from his skin, and confused

 

as he is by his wrists

uncoiling, by his thumbs

 

angling into a dirt

-flushed twosome of bastard

alulae, he imagines

 

he’s only a boy

unhitching the day

 

from his shoulders,

boy rushing through a whole

fruit orchard of minor

 

grievances, the sun

-bruised flesh of the fallen

 

scenting the backs

of his knees. When I say

a son broken open

 

by his father, I mean

a son, not a sweat-split Eden

 

where no only means

he’s rising through fog,

not a sheen of danger,

 

a canopy of trees

silking the soles of his

 

pollen-luscious feet.

When I say a son broken

open, I mean

 

a son shape-shifting

past the velvet scrim

 

of orchard and ether,

a son who learns

to leave his body

 

at the first slow pierce

of his father’s song.

 

FOR MY UNCLE, WHO LEARNED TO FLY

 

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful

At the beginning of October

 

—James Wright, “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio”

 

On nights moths cyclone and plunge

into my car’s low beams, I’m convinced

they are bodies in love—forewings ricochet

against parabolic reflectors

 

in cadence, thoraxes pelt the cool

tease of glass. Because spring thaw

suffers them into the crosswind’s whirl,

the dirge of the suicidally beautiful

 

becomes a rousing bell. When I learn

that celestial routing plots their spiral

flight paths, not longing, that my light’s heady

ploy is another logic

 

betraying me, I think of my uncle,

knees down in wildflowers, the day

my mother broke his arm. I imagine the clash

over a blue ukulele,

 

his ulna split by its cheap wood,

the way the nylon strings feathered

his skin. I want to touch his cast’s exhausted

foxhole as he secrets

 

his pain inside of it, to arch 

into its raw cotton. I want to close

my eyes over nights their father forced them

into the cellar, spurred him

 

onto his sister with joint locks

and vital point strikes to teach her

a lesson, his body thrust forward by their

father’s slurs. Years later,

 

grinding his thighs into boot

-marked bleachers at the rodeo, my uncle

watches cowboys launch toward steer bolting

from spring-loaded chutes,

 

watches for hands full of horns,

man given over to adrenaline and dust.

He gazes as man seizes beast like a child

held between another

 

child’s hands. Before my uncle

leaves for boot camp, he’ll hold his sister’s

wrist until she vines her fingers around his thumb

sequined with nicotine

 

stains. It is the last time

his hands will plot her vein’s smooth

tributaries, trail the map of scars to her pulse.

Next autumn, a bullet

 

will sing its way into his skin.

But for now, like honeysuckle

twisting hard at the root it loves or betrays,

she won’t let go.

 

 

OTHER PLANETS, OTHER STARS

 

At the shooting range, my mother and aunt

single out pistols, set aside an hour to palm

the grip of unversed steel, trigger guard,

 

every barrel’s delicately latticed gorge.

And after, they inundate targets at their chakra points, 

first head, then heart. Flare after flare

 

penetrating paper. Astronomers say that only one in five

stars like the sun hosts an earth-sized world,

but I can’t stop thinking of the smaller planets,

 

gaunt and mysterious, little martyrs of rock

accelerating in circuit, wondering what’s to come.

I’m quarantined in the lobby, a pair of muffs

 

sheathing my ears. I’m not old enough to fear

men who swagger through unlocked doors, to slip 

a hand under the bed skirt night after night

 

like my mother every time our house moans

under a broken stud, discerning metal from ruche.

Not every world has the girth to sashay

 

against gravity, so it hoards what it can. Planets

pulverized to radiant dust become girls of panic

and stone. I watch through bulletproof glass

 

how my mother now mimes the length

of the pull, metal jacketing the bullet’s scorching interior.

I want to be a planet far from this

 

sisterhood of Kepler data, where silhouettes

of men exert strong centrifugal force. I want

to be a soft glint of rock heralding her own

 

inertia, body without magnetic field

distorted by another celestial urging—aim the muzzle

like a solar tsunami. Detonate or run.

-From View from True North, Southern Illinois University Press, 2018.

Bio: SARA HENNING is the author of View from True North (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018), co-winner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award. It has been short listed by Jacar Press for the 2018 Julie Suk Award and for the 2019 High Plains Book Award. She was awarded the 2015 Crazyhorse Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, the 2019 Poetry Society of America's George Bogin Memorial Award, and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in poetry to the 2019 Sewanee Writers' Conference. Henning teaches writing at Stephen F. Austin State University, where she also serves as poetry editor for Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Please visit her at her electronic home: https://www.sarahenningpoet.com.