Poetry / Sara Henning
:: My Mother Comes Back as a Dragonfly ::
I swear I saw a bruised moon heat some angel re-born in carnival glass she was throwing shade from the junk store window strung out on fishing twine some kitsch bird-of-paradise some tchotchke mama flaunting a luminous vintage thorax I watched her pivot all done up with light her compound eyes twin disco balls I still want the jewel tones glinting from her spine to blow the sky open I want the blaze that means the dead no longer haunt the coordinates of our world and if we say the dead are only intransitive do they still seek a signifier? My mother died two Mays ago and I’m locking eyes with glass some dime store effigy hocked on clearance I’m chump enough to believe still holds her some hoodoo grace you could call it steeping every memory I revise here as though wanting a thing could make the act (of wanting it) simpler than touch Once I couldn’t stop searching for the sheer breach of it on my grandmother’s persimmon tree the naked devotion of simply witnessing (does that make it simple?) a carapace slit open a ghost-colored interloper easing its wings from the breathing sarcophagus knitted to a branch I watched the old eyes go dead but you could say it was lovely the belly downright swindled from its old skin the muscles in the thorax all shiver and blind urge you could say I was watching a spirit jettison from its last known instar gussy itself up for flight my mother once said dragonflies are the spirits of our lost ones returned to us that when her uncle died they thronged in swarms by the mailbox the juniper garden just lit up with them like stars she said that would land in her braid churn their wings with such fury she couldn’t unhear the rusted-bicycle-spoke sound of it until she was persuaded that every iridescent body is a soul come home it is said that the dragonfly nymph is a predator underwater and because science is shameful its flight cycle lasts weeks not years but these facts don’t stop me from trusting that the dead need stories to keep them iridescent yes my mother comes back to me but not like eggs on the sheen of water a version of herself feeding in the dark she does not perch on persimmon trees to sass the spirit twisting out of her last known body she does not shimmy her wings just to show off a reckoning much stronger than silk I’m trying to say that glimmer haunting me at the junk store window is a fool’s errand a trickster medicine I can’t talk myself out of believing I’m sorry the dazzle of someone else’s lost splendor brings me to my knees when I say that angel was the winged thing slipped out of my mother I’m only saying my mother is dead God help me my mother is dead
From the writer
:: Account ::
My mother died in 2016 of stage 4 metastatic adenocarcinoma, otherwise known as colon cancer. It had transferred from her colon to her womb, to her liver, to her lungs, then finally back to her liver, and she finally died from complications due to liver necrosis. She chose to keep the news of her cancer from me for two years. I found out the night she called me in the midst of a post-operative hallucination from pain medication—she believed she had been stolen by a man in a van and taken to his house. She believed he was cutting her open and stitching her closed to show a toxic relationship to masculine domination. After sheriffs were alerted and her call was tracked, we found out she had placed the call from the hospital. We found out the man she believed to be her abuser was her oncology nurse. These poems document the pain of losing a mother to cancer, the pain that stems from untruths, and how one may find oneself in the retrospective glance of grief everywhere one turns.
Sara Henning is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently View from True North (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Poetry Open Prize. In 2015, she won the Crazyhorse Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, judged by Alberto Ríos, and most recently, she is the winner of the 2019 Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award. She has published poems in many journals and anthologies, most notably Quarterly West, Crazyhorse, Witness, Meridian, and the Cincinnati Review. She 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.