Tuesday Jul 17

Henning Sara Henning is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently View from True North, which won the 2017 Crab Orchard Poetry Open Prize,

selected by Adrian Matejka, and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2018. Her other collections include A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink 2013), as well as two chapbooks, Garden Effigies (dancing girl press 2015) and To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press 2012). In 2015, she won the Crazyhorse Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, judged by Alberto Ríos. She has published poems in several journals and anthologies, most notably Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Passages North, RHINO, Meridian, and the Cincinnati Review. She also has a record of publication in fiction and nonfiction, with flash fiction and lyrical essays published in journals such as Connotation Press, where she appeared as featured author for the September 2016 issue, and 4 PM Count, a journal associated with the Arts Endowment’s interagency initiative with Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons in Yankton, South Dakota. Sara is a visiting assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University.

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ANOTHER FOURTH OF JULY

In my mouth, kettle corn un-petals fast and loose, a dead heat of sugar. The singe and sass of the municipal band thrums another pre-twilight God Bless America, another Stars and Stripes Forever as grandmothers lean into the hush of chaise camping chairs, as veterans stand—army or navy—vanilla melting in their red Solo cups. I’m disappearing into this relentless moment of normal, my rhinestone sandals slick on the asphalt, my hand supine under the small lightning of my husband’s thumb.

My father’s last name makes me think of orchid petals, the throat of a flower bruised with heat. I am focused on the man made flesh of him, not his body lapsed into the wild. Could hummingbird tongues flit in the silken space of him, as if between bones? After all, his last name is actually Flowers. No aphorism haunts this alias, no pastoral irony blessed into the trope of him. His name was Raymond, my mother once told me, but everyone called him Michael. I’m trying to unburden his name. After all, lily petals have been known to haunt a dead man’s eyes. There is something lurid about moonflower, milk thistle—the prettiness of a garden pestilence. Follow me into a truth that never contained him: once upon a time, an orchid blossom slept on a dead man’s tongue. The seized-open bloom was flecked with pollen instead of words. I am his bastard daughter, his broken pill pack daughter, his daughter of a world gone wrong. My mother would have named me Jade MoonStar, had my grandmother let her, not Moonflower-Left-on-the-Vine. Because the moon is here to hallow us all. Because even the moon couldn’t save him.

My husband’s thumb now, not my father’s, as the sky fills with a ritual cloy and thrash: our independence, the cliché he uses to mean I’ve buried my father, then my mother. As if to say: nameless, I’ll tether you to this earth. With my body, I’ll give you a name.

We’re waiting for fireworks, not another slow-motion disaster, another flick of match on sulfur, a scattershot and deafening surge. I’m thinking of Minneapolis, my three days of mania after my mother left the earth. A hymn of muted baseball and CNN that soundtracked my neurochemical tripwire—she’d been six weeks gone. I let her absence harden into an effigy I could hold: a highball glass like an exiled prayer. I took the whispers of glass with me to bed. I never wanted a grace this liminal—field where I bury my body instead of my dead, burned poppy skin, another blackened blossom. When he came close—my not-yet-husband, my favorite lover—I struck him hard, the only time I’d ever hit him. A bruise I’d like to crawl inside of darkened his skin. Isn’t this the body’s means of refuge, the last bloom and throttle as I turned from him? Could he feel me nestled between his ribs?

Baseball games fever every summer that leaves us. During the longest delays, we savor foot-longs stippled with onion, thick-cut fries gemmed with salt. My face in his neck, we stretch against the wall like teenagers, nothing but concrete and the last of the light threading through rain. We talk about our mothers, who could have been the same woman: jaded past the glint of girlhood, hard against the men and lies that siphon off a sweetness that was never there. I’m also a woman who no longer breathes her men or children like a necessary air. My eyes like levees bursting when they smile. My eyes like grief cut into rock. There is a selfie of us among empties—seats, Bud cans, a post-apocalyptic stadium. I shrug as if to say “where are the zombies?” In a Twilight Zone episode titled “Probe 7, Over and Out,” Colonel Adam Cook crash-lands into a planet unpeopled but for lush fronds, trees eclipsing the precincts of his gutted ship. He meets a stranded woman named Norda Eve, a shaggy God story unfurling. Are we Adam Cook and Norda Eve, trauma leading us indelibly to an Eden that won’t hold us?

Is there anything more distinctly American, this lost world we enter together, as if we’d known it all along? Corn glittered with salt, sugar—the same white crystals in different frequencies. Kernels pearled as fireworks sizzle and pop. This is hunger: my husband’s thumb coaxing me back to the world, my thighs on the stadium bleachers, humid but for the sky mooring us—another country of want—I watch him palm this moment, lost, we’ll call devotion. I watch him without a moment’s thinking, take it in his mouth.