Sara Henning’s poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Bombay Gin, Willow Springs, and Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.
Cutting It Down
My mother, the apple tree, her house in Des Plaines.
My mother, turning pages with juice-stained fingers, entire afternoons of books and wind. Sparrows’ toes tempting her to become part tree, part girl.
Then Dean Martin gushing through the living room windows. Then time to hide the children.
Memories are made of this, her father’s voice joining the lilt. Sixth Martini. You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.
Her body dropping reckless from branches, plucking toys from her sibling’s hands. Sister on her hip, palm hard against her brother’s back. Up the stairs, shoes shorn for soft stepping, into closets. Cotton and leather to swathe the body. Silk for the face.
Always a different location. A game of memory.
Bedroom, crawlspace, bathroom cabinet. Wherever their bodies, contorted into shapes of fear and corduroy, could slink. Linen or bivouac. Whichever safety would hold them.
Breathe lightly, she’d tell them. Gather your breath into a small orb of light and hold it in your chest.
Stockings stained with cinder, upstairs fireplace. Children still as lamps, children behind curtains.
Hold it there. Like they’d entered a game of waiting.
Try not to let go.
Needle grafting the record’s face, the return to song. Her father’s voice, her mother’s voice.
Leave them alone, like her mother would say on Saturdays in autumn, when he’d spend mornings raking, then burning leaves. When he’d return to the pile from a break with the paper to find the gold and burnish ravaged, stains of laughing and jumping, a trail of things dead and glowing.
Her youngest running to show her the rake-shaped marks on her legs.
Leave them. The bodies, tucked away. The bodies unheeded.
Leave them. First, soles of leather shoes slapping wood. Then restlessness, small things curling away from their latitude, their longitude. The ripping apart of drawers, waspish oblivion. Kicked cat, kicked dog. How his body looks when it touches the bed. How his body, in blackout, is still reaching.
Gather the children like apples, turn them over in her hands.
When she returns from school and the apple tree is gone. Hollow, he’ll tell her, spectacular with rot. The next storm would fill it with a rage of water. The house would lurch when it split the roof. Have mercy, he’ll tell her, on a thing that will fall.
The tree, not the fruit now bitten.
The book, not the hands that clutch it.
The wind, toes of sparrows, not the leaves that hang, not the rain still clinging.
Never the apples, brutal.
Never the storm.