Barbara Henning

Oh Girl

She wants to see us and we want to see her. This January has been the warmest since the early fifties. Time is longer and the passing unnoticed. I haven’t seen her for forty years. Except in the lower corner of a photo. I thought she was born a woman, but later I learned she’d had a sex change. Oh girl, come here, she says, swinging her hips. She feels like a teddy bear in all her clothing. We are instructed to relax the outer edges of our arms and legs. She puts twenty or so pills on her napkin. Fold up your sheet into a perfect square and put it on the top of the stack in the linen closet. Are you writing about me? she asks.


Yesterday was a new moon

In the mirror, my lips look young
and swollen like orange segments

The century’s turned and I’ve
lost my remote control


Just sit and wait.

Take this paper to the third floor. Follow signs to MRI. Oxygen in use. Warning. Do not enter. Strong Magnetic Field. No pacemakers. No loose metal objects. Caution. Magnetic field may damage cameras, mechanical watches, credit cards, recording materials and other mechanical magnetic sensitive devices. I cross my hands over my heart as they slide me into the tube and turn up the racket of ions reversing. The damaged nerve makes my skin burn. I count the particles in the racket, calculating where I am in this world of forty minutes. Don’t worry dear, says someone somewhere with a very deep voice, I’m looking after you. Most of the microbes belong to a species that neither help nor hurt us.


At the table next to me in Veselka’s

I overhear a couple arguing. You idiot. This judgement of me and you tell me now? I’m leaving here and I’m never coming back. Never? I don’t want to live this type of life. Don’t you even like me? No. How long have you known this? For years. You idiot! Get out of here now. Right now. . . Why isn’t he leaving? I wonder. The rustling of paper. This is supposed to be a marriage breaking up, the woman says, and there’s no emotion. There is supposed to be a pause after that line.


I’m a club owner. I deal in girls

Flats were popular in the sixties
I wore them in the snow
lately I carry my feet along with me

Hey skinny bones. You look like a bird
my father used to say. My first package
of pantyhose was stolen from Woolworth’s

A thought or emotion
gets stuck in the mental field
Begin to arouse her through fondling

It’s a matter of balance. I keep thinking
I’m sitting on ice when in fact
I’m sitting on my scarf

To a certain degree we accommodate
the whole thing falling apart
but we are not authorized

like the man standing across the street
to grant deferments or exemptions


Though every bone in my body says

go home, my legs take me to the seat right beside the woman I want to avoid. Today she’s sullen and silent. Having finished eating, she stares out the window. Be careful, I think, not to make eye contact or she will start complaining. Out of the corner of my right eye, I can see her rummaging through her purse for money. The guy behind her starts to speak, she sits back, perhaps I think, deciding to stay instead of leaving. They are talking about their cats. “Oh, my god . . . the only thing is when you have property, you can’t get rid of it.” She’s taking her pills and going through her bag again. I’m writing so small so no one can see it.


I remember running

I remember running across St. Marks (in this new hobbling way) to catch the First Avenue
bus. A young man was in a wheelchair locked into the spot near the back door. He had curly hair. I was holding the bar above him and I think my bag knocked against his head.



What’s that? Your piriformis muscle. Steven pulls up the skin on my spine. On your side. Don’t resist. Crack. Over. He has my necklace in his hands. This is pretty, he says, as he places it around my neck, carefully closing the clasp.


It’s so

It’s so warm and beautiful today even though we are on the brink
of the dark age and some say it may last for 360,000 years



There’s a thief in your house
and he’s rummaging
through your dresser drawers.

Where will he go when he sees
you watching him? Will he
escape or will he and you

become cage mates together
in some psychodrama,
like cats and rats, what is

the correct mechanism
to be engaged here?
Where are the theatrical agents

who can help depopulate
the stage? The chaos wheel
is gaining momentum.

You want to watch that
thought flee, but it becomes
big, looming, mad

and maniacal and then it starts
chasing you, your very own ego,
around and out into the cold.

The door slams, and only then
does he duck out on the fire escape.
And you,

you’re left standing
in the hallway, naked with a bell
ringing between your ears.


When I woke up, I was
in the wrong place, holding
a blooming dandelion in my hand.

I knew there was something wrong
when I completely forgot the script
so clearly encoded under my forehead.

The rush of spirit retreated through a pinhole
and dropped me back in this square room
with thunder and the sound of heavy metal.

On the other side of the window
the microwave beeped. A door slammed.
The tv was on automatic shut off.

The computer, some kind of advance
on cuneiform writing
was flashing the figure of a fish.

A drawing by Dr. Freud in 1878
of the neurons in a spinal ganglion.
Through the pinhole of that glassy eye—

Dr. Agassiz made his student learn
the truth about fish—
and I put my ear to a conch shell.

The sound of a distant oceanic voice—
“What is there is there. And that is that.”

I Just Found Out

Hello, I just found out
I have a heart abnormality.
Three teaspoons and six handles

of dessert spoons. I’m recovering
from a slipped disk in my neck
and a sprained wrist. Three handles

of tin cups. So I’m giving up
my exercise program. Pieces of
mattress wire. We talk about

different dietary choices
for alleviating our ailments.
Buckles and buttons.

Tables of contents and
bibliographies. Twenty-Five
pieces of glass. This one’s

interesting. This one’s boring.
That one’s racist. Thirty stones
of various sizes. We make

oatmeal and fruit. Six stones
from intestines after death.
Sixteen stones passed per rectum.

She stops at a hardware store
on her way to the subway
to help me look for a hook and eye.

The Beauty of Pigeons

In the dream, I arrive with the wrong manuscript
Kim Lyons stretches out on the stage smiling

a universe of analogies, homologies, and double meanings

beside me, a woman covers her face so her eyes,
though hidden, can see
we arrange our bodies
so that inner secrets are not revealed

a young man with messy brown hair eats dinner
with a headset and two forks holding his book open

at the moment when the first life burst into the world

we sleep one and a half hours past our usual waking time
then mother reminds us of daylight savings time

and Chuck Wachtel points into the sky at the beauty of pigeons

the most effective procedure is deepest sleep
or to be a plant, to sprout, to desire no desire, see no dream

like a blossom in the sun, one sound and we’re changed
don’t say anything, but that’s Madonna

at this particular moment which is the nearest to the present

in a secret, dark, ambiguous language
the trees in Tompkins Square, my big old friends, spread out

I release puffs of Dorothy’s white hair into the wind

a squirrel chases a bird over a branch
and hundreds of yellow leaves drop with that light crashing sound

if our mother were here, she would surely wake us

Barbara Henning is the author of four novels and eight collections of poetry, most recently, Digigram (United Artists 2020) and Prompt Book: Experiments for Writing Poetry and Fiction (Spuyten Duyvil 2021). Ferne, a Detroit Story, a hybrid novelized biography of her mother, is forthcoming (Spuyten Duyvil, 2022). She has taught for Naropa University and Long Island University where she is Professor Emerita. Born in Detroit, she presently lives in Brooklyn and teaches for
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.

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