1 - jericho brown the tradition.jpg

View from True North by Sara Henning
Southern Illinois University Press, 2018. 88 pages.
Reviewed by Donna Vorreyer

The fruit here is bruised, the landscape stained with secrets and longing. The speaker searches for true north, for a deep point of internal orientation that will lead to escape. And everywhere the starlings, strong birds who fly direct, who communicate with their own group etiquette even while they viciously invade the spaces of others. View from True North by Sara Henning, winner of the Crab Orchard Prize in 2018, is a devastating look at generational trauma, the way a family remains connected through circumstance and blood despite an inheritance of violence and secrets. With lyric beauty and a razor-sharp diction, Henning takes the reader on a dark journey where the hope of a brighter somewhere shimmers in the shadows. This language has power, and therefore letting it speak for itself to introduce the major themes of the book seems the rightest and truest way to proceed.

View From True North: A Cento Review

1. Escape

A son who learns to leave his body at the first slow pierce of his father’s song...

I could have been staring into my mother’s face, murmuring siege then sunder. 

I could have been pretending my father had not killed himself the week before.

Jelly sandals glittering between escape velocities,

I want to be a soft glint of rock heralding her own inertia, 

body without magnetic field distorted by another celestial urging.

For hours, we choke on cinder, salt, envy the only cauldron-bound

spirit among us to quit her mother’s body, fly…

If you cannot deliver me, forgive me my trespass. The discreet side to side 

of revelation still calls me home. 

Let my truth, graceless squall that it is, hold you like a lover. 

II. Disclosure

She’ll use the word accident, blame her German shepherd’s sweet-sly heft

As if faith had ever been the fabric swathing her body to his body. 

As if infection came from a Holiday Inn toilet, 

his lie like semen-swill straining the humid reach of air and pear flesh. 

What she found - Polaroids glued on back leaves. Naked men posed over beds,

their hard cocks stretched on their bellies like sunning garter snakes. 

Barely legals standing akimbo, underwear cupping their scrotums. 

She holds him on his knees, grits these words through her teeth: 

you’ll never hit me again.

I don’t want to ask him why did you marry my grandmother?

Instead I’m writing on the first blank page I can find

you should have loved who you wanted.

Do you call it bone of my bone/flesh of my flesh/A fist-shaped longing

chiseled out of light?

III. A Way Through

I’m not content to sway here, lost squall of girl, so lapsed I’m nuclear.

I only want to think of my love’s thinly muscled silhouette churning 

in the last of the light when he stands to dress.

Because I’m trickster, heiress of disaster, I’ll learn to hold my breath 

until I’m gut and glisten, cull and foam. 

For years, I’ll lark my way through every absurdity of pain

until I learn laughter is not passion but denial’s swift blur into languor.

When hope no longer consoles us, we unhinge, we crash-land, 

we sing in our sleep. I only know how to purge my lungs

of the tree -scarred matrix of anger and longing until it’s singing 

I drown in.  I only know how to dive until I’m new. 


Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press). Her reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, Quarterly West, Sugar House Review, Cider Press Review, Tinderbox Poetry, and other journals.