Sara Henning

If Rage Could Kill, Mother (1979)

Bipolar rage is a waking nightmare for the person in [its] grips and for those in its path. It is
uncontrollable, unstable, and unpredictable….With bipolar rage there does not necessarily
need to be a trigger, it can show up without warning and is always absent of reason.

           –Dominique Castro, Anxiety & Depression Association of America

You begin by throating a Benson
& Hedges 100, dagger the sultry
vowels of smoke. You let it ribbon,
rush your trachea walls, your lungs’
alveolar surface helpless to its helix,
naked as a cluster of moon drop grapes.
You begin again. As nicotine pierces
your blood, you milk the release.
Never let go of your ghosts, you always
told me. Dragon woman, you
bleed beauty every time you exhale,
no flame between us but a story of burning.
Plume’s bruised fugitive escaping
your lips. I’m still the child inside you
sleeping, Hurricane David lashing
our home on Victory Drive. I hung
in your waters then, shook by the blare
as when your doctor cut me out
of you, eyes open, silent until
he hoisted my blood-luscious body,
slapped me awake. Silence saved me
those years you unraveled, every cell
of you radiant as you’d close in
on my face, our bodies almost
touching, your smoke-stung words—
go fuck yourself. This is our history,
Mother, your menthol breath, daughter
invisible as spokes of my Huffy sliced
through light. Summer, winter—
I’d dash through cul-de-sacs, asphalt
that could fry an egg searing
my bare feet. Asphalt numbing me
cold. I’d do anything to outrun
your voice. Was I real then, leaning
into any speed my body could make?
Did I matter? I spent your last Christmas
on my knees, muscling out dirt,
rag in hand. After your stroke, after cancer
came for you, I boiled broth from bones,
water licking through marrow, salt
rising like your voice—Don’t fuck it up,
Sara, the way you fuck up everything.

Do you know, Mother, the eye
of a hurricane can fool the woman
it kills? You’re dead now. I’m still falling
into your vortex the way I learned
to fall in love—deep in the throat.
It’s ribbon lashing. Some man, any man,
inside me milking ghosts, etching
himself into the vowels of my name.



Sara Henning is the author of View from True North, chosen by Adrian Matejka as cowinner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award. It went on to win the 2019 High Plains Book Award. Terra Incognita, her collection of elegies written for her mother, was chosen by Rebecca Morgan Frank as the 2021 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and was released by Ohio University Press in March 2022. Her latest collection of poems, Burn, is a Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Editor’s Selection and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2024. Her honors include the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, the George Bogin Memorial Award, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers' Conference. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Quarterly West, Alaska Quarterly Review, Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Crazyhorse, Southern Humanities Review, Meridian, and the Cincinnati Review. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Marshall University.