078.1: Sara Henning:: Without an Aperture & Girls Like Us 078

Not enough is said about music. Last week, as I sat down to write this introduction, I re-encountered Sara Henning’s poems. I found myself impressed by the artful elaboration of ideas from grammatically similar structures and overarching floral conceit in her prose poem “Without an Aperture.” The verse poem “Girls Like Us” engrossed me through its images extending over three lines that suddenly, wonderfully, shift into other associations. But what dazzled me more was Henning’s music. “Without an Aperture” discovers itself by stitching sounds together as fluidly as it does ideas. Immediately following the first clause, we know we’re in for a musical performance: “…your mouth covered mine like soil covers a root but relies on ruse and not the turn from soil to rock and back again”. The frequency of the “r” sound in this passage is more evocative than argumentative, wandering from mouth, to soil, to root, and then to ruse. In the next sentence, wood turns “spongy” and, one clause later, we have the beautiful compound idea ”braincomb” that takes the wood’s transformation, symbolically and phonetically, and moves the wood, the speaker’s body, and the peculiar romance of the poem into an exploration of contact with the world out there.

“Girls Like Us”, manages a similar musical effect. In the tighter spaces of verse, however, these effects contribute to a delightful delay in elaboration. If her prose poem is a meandering study, then her verse is a dramatic suspension: “held irons to tendrils that sizzled / like coffee long left / to the bottom of the pot / we took with cigarettes, / too old for our mother’s eggs”. The twists and turns in this conceit fly off with a centrifugal motion: the speaker rattles off ironing hair, burned coffee, cigarettes, and eggs, using each turn as an opportunity as a new occasion for association by sound (just take a look at all the “l” sounds, the “t” and “d” sounds, the “o” vowels in the final line of the quote). All these components seem to fly from a center that remains forever beyond reach, the stuff of musical allusion. With Henning, the joy is in its unraveling. Ryan Winet

Without an Aperture

It went like this, your mouth covered mine like soil covers a root but relies on ruse and not the turn from soil to rock and back again, until it is velvet, until it feeds. I use my fingers to dig where the wood turns spongy, my body before it was a body, braincomb, the soft sunder of girl’s hair, coaxed from it a language of bruised petal, rock that lodges in the shoe or the heart. We were strangers to each other except for the poem about the rock making shadow from desire, animal stirring under the evening’s confluent rust. It was a poem we wrote in spite of each other, wrote when we were children and staining our knees with it, holding it in our pockets like mica or plundered quarters. The excess of each other’s bodies was some field you stripped in to find your shadow naked but clung to trees, clung to birds like mites on the feather’s sweet oil, song of my body you writhe against to rise, covered in hunger, but still you rise, hunger only bone-field to a body you refuse but for the dance you cannot stop your response to, neither participant willing to move, but standing so close the movement becomes petal you place under your tongue as a stand in for language, you rise, dressed in my body now to dance the poem of your making as if it was not shame, as if we did not disentangle our nights from each other so each could blossom separately, no longer heady, so they could sweeten inconsolably, comfort, as poems do, that do not move together like a soliloquy of verbs but burn.

Girls Like Us

Gather in basements
to confuse gossip for secrets
or the radio’s singe,
who we went all the way with,
who we wanted when
we touched ourselves.
We teased each other’s hair
until our eyes watered
with the stick and rip
of comb against mousse,
held irons to tendrils that sizzled
like coffee long left
to the bottom of the pot
we took with cigarettes,
too old for our mother’s eggs.
Our talk turned to girls
with thighs so lithe they
resisted the hem of a skirt,
breasts curving like tops
of cupcakes a boy would slide
a finger over to relish the sugar,
throw the rest in the trash,
turned to girls who let the moon
hold them down in the backseat
of a boy’s car till they believed
they could find the oblivion
of maturity in the body
that entered their bodies.
We sipped the blonde
head off beer and turned
off the lights, gave the night
to girlhoods tormented sweet
before they were ever salty,
girlhoods rubbed like grass
into the knees of jeans
we’d keep till we snuck
them from closets, straddled,
pulled and shimmied,
till we fingered the zippers,
women now, let them
baptize us with chaos
or kiss us.