Picaresque with Lady Day and the Last Bad Lover Man
She loved her gin like she loved to roll the tonic of velveteen burn in her mouth. Clench it there, until mourning doves, stifled and livid, swarmed. I look for them in the corners of my kitchen— supple loiterers, radio-stained and insatiable. They canvas the tile for crumbs. I’m pouring another dove on the rocks, swallowing the tincture of my no-good man like Lady’s working her hex’s slurred legato. I like him culled from the bottom of the bottle so I can milk his swank and swagger for hours, so he’ll linger in my lingerie like the last bruise he’ll ever leave on my body, all swindle, all storm. I want to be the woman with timbre like a razor concealed in my stockings, that woman who’ll wear a dirge slung low and tight -fitting, rich and musky, so there’s nothing but threat after threat of gardenia.
I’m ten, it’s June, and already the peacocks are screaming. I cling to my place in the world as though I’m ivy vacillating around the most usable truth. Why does the neighbor’s daughter tell me to hold my breath when I pass the cemetery by our home, will spirits enter my lungs, traipse along my own body’s inquiry like silt severed by water? Her name was Laurie. Why do I still hold my breath so her body found strangled on the sofa can’t become part of my skin? She was thirteen, babysitting. They can’t say if she’d been raped, then strangled; or strangled, then raped. A cold case. They only said she used to cut hearts in her shirts at each breast to lure boyfriends. All I know is I’m a Miller moth clinging to the seat of my mother’s Corolla, riven with breath and budding. She’s rushing past the monoliths strewn with hyacinths. I’ll abandon my throat’s supple bevel of protection. Instead of paradox, I’ll horde light, willow bark’s sap-ridden tenderness.
Sara Henning’s poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Bombay Gin, Willow Springs, and the Crab Orchard Review. She has published a chapbook called To Speak of Dahlias and a full-length collection titled A Sweeter Water.
She was born in Savannah, Georgia, and raised in Athens, Georgia. She attended the University of Georgia and George Mason University before traversing north for doctoral study. 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.