My grandmother vacuums ghosts / Amputation / Bad Magic / The Burning - Karli Henning

My grandmother vacuums ghosts / Amputation / Bad Magic / The Burning - Karli Henning

My grandmother vacuums ghosts

with the resolve of a soldier in combat.

The slightest suggestion of guests
has her armed with the Dyson.

In curlers and a periwinkle bathrobe
she sucks up whatever heaviness
has been lingering in the house.

Dirt from my grandfather’s work boots
that he only wears to get the mail
ever since he got sick.

Fuzz from half-done knitting projects
she keeps ignoring
because of the arthritis.

Crumbs from microwave meals
that seem a good alternative
to another trip to the grocery store.

She sweeps the debris,
all that haunts her,
the quiet evidence of aging.

Orange-tinted prescription bottles, expired
pistachio ice cream, frayed shirtsleeves, burnt out
light bulbs, a dead houseplant.


Beside my cup of coffee lies a piece 
of doubt, a chewed off fleck of fingernail,
a slice of anxious soul atop my desk,
waiting for wind or a grave beneath papers. 

But what if this dead skin transformed to seeds
and grew from cells to hands – alive and well – 
acting, without the brain’s daunting talk
that has stopped my hands so many times before? 

These hands would move like swords and rivers
so fierce and forward that the world would wake 
to watch them dig for gold through broken glass
and make hurricanes with finger paint.

Bad Magic

When I first lost love
I felt it slip away like
a bad magic trick –
like someone pulling 
the white sheet
from beneath a set table –
like plates and teacups
soaring through space
before falling
in different directions. 

You are not the girl I fell in love with, anyway,
he said.

I am not the girl I fell in love with, anyway,
I answered.

All that was left –
four clenched fists,
a bare table
and two people
trying to walk across
shattered dishes
and delusions.

The Burning

Can I rise like a forest, born fresh from the fire?
I need stretched roots and renewed breath from the fire.

Under dimpled skin, blood cells eat themselves –
my infant niece’s flesh is on fire.

News stations show California cabins scorched
beneath a purple sky, a black mess from the fire. 

A woman rejects a drink for the third time.
His persistence fills her chest with a fire.  

When the reporter asks a gold medalist about motivation,
he says it’s all one big test of your fire.

Parents stop fighting to put the children to bed,
for a moment, snuffing the stress of the fire. 

My grandmother’s ashes speckle the Pacific Ocean.
Didn’t we all come from the death of the fire?


About the Author

KARLI HENNING’s work has also been featured in Poetry Quarterly, See Spot Run Magazine, and Falling Star Magazine.