7.03 / March 2012

Four Stories

Another Glass Essay

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Last night we discussed breastfeeding, but it didn’t start that way.  My lover and I were suffering an attachment to each other troubled by his six week training sabbatical in Minneapolis, worsened by how new we were to each other.  Nights fell to discussion of the body made from the distance between us, how the touches lost to latitude were their own continued intimacy.  We were just learning each other; my memories of his hands were burned into me by a referent displaced enough to choose another. The body between us was growing like my memory’s solvency-all I could see was its face.  At night, amidst enveloping bed linen, I felt its lips on my eyelids, its face in my hair.  I called the body my infidelity; I called it my cancer.  Tonight, we didn’t talk about how it visited him too.  Instead, we talked about glass.

His mother’s china was the color of urine; blue vines of wildflowers floated in its bevels, stalks of puce grass sunk to the bottom.  When he was a child, he was scared of breaking a bowl for how the shards would lodge in the soles of his feet, how his mother would force a broom into his hands.  So he developed a taste for porcelain collectibles, stained hangings of animals.  When she died, he gutted each one with the butt of a wine bottle and his floor sparkled with the fear and solitude of a boy who lost himself through his mother.   Memories, like glass, were solid enough to be amorphous; memories, like glass, tried to enter the body for good.  Weren’t we all, he asked me, alchemists turning unmentionables into valuables?  The replacement pieces weighed more than his mother’s ashes; for weeks after he found slivers in his hands.

I sucked my thumb like I breastfed, until the cut of new teeth scared me.  His thumb had held little interest to him.  Not breastfed, he never forgave his mother’s denial now apparent in a too narrow jaw, tongue awkward in a woman’s mouth.  I confess another lover, not breastfed, once lifted my shirt and sought out the nipple for novelty or awe, while I pushed his head away; confess my fantasy of making love while lactating, breast milk dripping down my chest while my body twisted around the wounds of birthing, how the father might wipe the wetness with the linen, later take the sheet to his tongue.

Tonight the body between us put a fist through its reflection in the bathroom mirror.  I won’t tell him I compare his mother’s choice to a cigarette pressed into silk, my father’s suicide:  referent always empty of contingency; holes in our childhood that never stopped burning.  The sounds of flesh and glass becoming one.

Lost Things

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One day my hole saw your hole and we fell through each other by naming them:  one day our holes called each other doubtlessly sayable things.  My hole: finch; your hole:  gold woven out of dirt that the finch puts its beak to, as boundaries do when we are closed by a more comfortable context. But it is a context that finally frees us enough to append our silence, scrawled missives, bodies touching each other in a dark no longer dark because we have named it, because we hold a palpable ecstasy of the opposite, finch that dreams enough to push its body from dreamscape, finch that opens its beak like it parts wing from the breast, until pure aperture burns enough to call the emergence a song, fills itself in the dark of what is aperture, and there is only singe enough to sing.

I begin my list:  tomcat with feet flexed in a seizure of pleasure, belly chasing sun; hen rescued from a truck, jumping against the heft of her body for a crust of bread; brother plucking sorrow from my lap like peonies.  No one wants stories about fits of nostalgia, mothers, flowers, birds that call with the sun in their mouths. No one gives a shit about your brother even if he is blitzed and dirvishing through the binding that we both lost a father, rely on things outside ourselves to get us through; instead of flowers we sate ourselves by uninventing our ancestry, more powerful than a surname, all of these failed translations that feed my mind and not my heart. The tom was cold when I touched my face to his fur; my brother is marrying a woman I have never spoken to, and yet this urge is here to name things which I am not:  hen’s wing ripped off by a dog, mother burning my childhood on a pyre, childhood expunged from my body like a struggling sack of sugar. Hunger like sleep is its own reckless art: oaks hunt sun in the night, leaves ginger like the tea I have a hard time swallowing because it is so close to the color of blood.  The bodies detach in my dreams, too full of color to be fed by air. Some morning it is enough to tear bread with my hands, spoon oats from a bowl; I’d rather watch my lover fork eggs into his mouth, bite sausage until the juices come. I rely on the grit at the bottom of his coffee cup, the bits that catch in his teeth. This is how he’ll remember me-not the lines around my eyes and mouth, finches left to winter, but how the bits become a part of our bodies reckless for their simplicity, fragments of a surname only partly recognizable when we taste it on our tongues.

Gutter Girls

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We used to whisper the edges of girlhood through the cordless phone, spend weekends together with steaming bowls of your mother’s shrimp creole, too milky Kraft Dinner spooned from the pot. It was the comfort of your back to mine as we lay in your bed, barely sleeping, in boxer shorts and sports bras.  Together, we learned how to shave our legs with Bic one blades that cut our shins till they burned like fire ant stings.

When your boyfriend booked that room at the Howard Johnson when you were fourteen, I told no one. I should have told like you should have told when I smoked my first joint, when I ate just to vomit my food, loved you more because we kept the elision in the back of our throats, promised to take them to hell with us. Like when your first boyfriend started hitting you. Like when my last boyfriend overdosed on heroin.  Like when a car severed the cartilage in your ankle and you’ll never run again.  Like when I slit my wrists and chased it with whiskey.  Like when we ran to each other when we had everything to run from, and called ourselves gutter girls, the misplaced soliloquy of our last mistake, the one I shared when you weren’t listening, when you were listening so hard you could not speak.

Grown now, we still strip off t-shirts, hiking our skirts in creeks; we catch crayfish just to feel their bodies struggle between our need to touch something, the mossy rocks. Like how you did ecstasy with your husband so he wouldn’t fuck another woman. Like how I tattooed what I couldn’t tell you on the small of my back, bird mouthing a story amidst a reprieve of wings.  You helped me rub lotion on the raw skin, as though it was aloe and we had sat by the river too long, bikini tops covered in hearts, thighs stuck to patio wicker-they were wet like stone-fruit cut open and covered in honey; they were wet like a wound.

First Kiss

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You were not buried where the autumn changed direction in Georgia, ice crystals on magnolia leaves battling humidity at noon.

You were not buried in the jeans crumpled in the corner of my bedroom, drawn-in daisies circling split knees, sun and moon doodled at the thighs.

Still, you were not buried in meadows shocked with grass, my mother’s car studded with rust, my hair dyed strawberry blonde in my bathroom sink, but rather, in an afternoon throbbing with beer filched from a neighbor’s house where my girlhood changed direction with the weather.

My best friend and I slipped bottles down the front of our jeans to the rim of our panties and sipped our bounties long past the taste to where the pleasure started. I was blind to how lonely I felt next to a girl that did not know how underneath her blouse her heart was the pithy center of a pomegranate, how if I held it in my hand it would go still like a dove at the edge of the river, then tear at my hand with its wing song.  We were twelve, her boyfriend eighteen enough to reach the back of her throat with his tongue without choking her.

I found you there where the season changed direction, late for dinner and my mother’s prying; I found you swollen by summer and stolen by winter when I closed my eyes and separated the crush from the soil in my mind my best friend told me to plant him in, water him and sing to him, so she could stand there instead, tongue still in my mouth, her breath on my neck, and our bodies were doves, loose with river water and the weight of the horizon, cold enough to tear more southward, warm enough to freeze.

Sara Henning received her MFA from George Mason University. A former Vermont Studio Center resident, she has poems published or forthcoming in journals such as American Letters and Commentary, Verse, Room, Fence, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume V: Georgia. A Georgia native, she is currently a doctoral student in English at the University of South Dakota.
7.03 / March 2012