Sara Henning

Dear Sara,

 
As I write this, I have only recently found out that my sister has terminal cancer. I am sorry to bring this up when I am talking about your book, but it permeates everything I think and do now, which is something I know from your work you understand. Life and death. Love and family. The heartbeat of these poems.

 
What strikes me early on in your book is how women take care of everyone—not just the innocent, not just other women or children, caught up in the web of men’s violence, but the men, too. The grandfather, the central figure in this book, is an abuser who ends up with dementia in his old age. His daughter, the speaker’s mother and a victim of her father’s rage, becomes a caretaker. “She holds him on his knees,/grits these words through her teeth: You’ll never/hit me again.” The speaker’s mother gets this much power, but still takes care of her father.

 
The writing in this book, also, is just as tender and wise as it describes humbled rage; it cradles even those who do not seem to deserve cradling: “My grandfather’s neurons are ferrying the story/of his body across dark water.” Those lines resonated for me throughout the book and beyond, as I think about death and its inexorable journey. I’ll keep hearing them, keep thinking about their insight and surprise.

 
I want to be clear that my sister is the caretaker of our family, seeing each one of us through our darknesses, from our grandmother whose silence punished our mother to our father whose rages also gave way to dementia. I want to be clear that the ways death and punishment, love and blame twine themselves through your work—well, those ways are mysterious and painful and beautiful, as you write them, and I am in awe that you can. I mean that word, “awe,” in the traditional way: impressed and overwhelmed and afraid. Nothing is as terrifying as family pain faced head-on.

 
Oh, how this book produces sins and forgiveness like the secrets revealed in a good murder mystery. I’m reeling from discoveries and the words used to detail them. I won’t tell potential readers all that we learn about the speaker’s grandfather, but oh, we learn and we learn. He is a truly central figure, a contradiction and a power, a body present even in absence.

 
“Don’t leave me/alone to my ruddy din/of revelation” the speaker asks in the final poem, the title poem of this book. It’s a book that tells family secrets because keeping them is too lonely—for everyone involved. If only the secrets had been revealed before so much of the damage had been done. It’s the unveiling, the revelation, that drives this book. Revelation—light. Letting light flood the darkness. Because that’s what these poems do, for the writer and for the reader. Like maybe if we let everything become known, if we plumb the depths, we will become capable of flight like the starling: not from this world, ugly to some eyes, but capable of transcending ordinary, earth-bound life all the same.

 
Wishing flight for us all,

 
Katie

 

 … return to Issue 11.3 Table of Contents.