My Mother Comes Back as a Dragonfly

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: