The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

All Issues
SEPT 2022 Issue

Take it Down

for my son, Michah

Cover image: Miranda Maher.
Cover image: Miranda Maher.

In the dark, I pray
to my grandmother,
to Allen and my mother
please protect
our son
from the aftershock
that will reverberate
in his psyche
and in every corner
of the apartment

an electric cord in a noose
in the middle of the night

And please help her move on, too
Let go of him, please Rie, and move on—

These rooms where he grew up
Where his father died, holding
his hand and whispering
“I’m fine.” Let go of him, please—

In the morning, I sit on the bench
surrounding the scrawny tree
outside his apartment building
Linnée texts me
driving home to Bayport
with her brother in her care
We missed the storm, she writes
It never came here


I wake up and
carry Rie’s photo
as far away
as possible
from my bed

Maybe you’re right
Mook, maybe the beers
and the ambien
with the depression
Maybe she planned
this over and over
and that was enough—
Maybe it was the pandemic
and the isolation
she couldn’t dance
with her friends
go to work—
the Japanese suffer
more from shame
in the private
and public eye
a divorced, older woman
Maybe she couldn’t face
her depression
couldn’t face the future
couldn’t imagine the future
couldn’t face what every other
human being on this planet . . .

Maybe you were
her anchor, keeping her alive
You waited and waited
She had her green card
There was an apartment
You wanted to move on
Maybe that did it


Oh, yes
she was
a dancer
an artist
a whiz on the computer
a wonderful cook
a lot of years ahead
a wife, a roommate
a friend
a kind person
kind of kind
but not kind
at the end
and kind of
not kind
in the not yet
in the hanging on
in the hanging


Hot and breathless
walked over to Mook’s
put a package inside
his apartment door—
Outside under the tree
I sit and watch a man sell
some yellow tulips


Your children are your
children young or grown
for as long
as you live
and maybe


Look in the mirror and see wrinkles
under my arms and thighs
Old age crept up on me
Just keep doing yoga
Just keep doing


So you were impatient
and you wanted
she didn’t want—
Out of retaliation
despair, fear or even
misguided love
she killed herself—
It was her life
her decision
no matter what—
Reason it through
over and over
and let it pass
Do rituals
of forgiveness
to protect yourself
and let her go


Sitting outside
a restaurant
across the street
from PS 107
where you went
to kindergarten
you talk about
how much
you now like
the country
even the suburbs—

Some days
I don’t worry
about you and Linnee
and the years after
I pass out of this body

Along the park
The rolling trees
Thick hot air
cars, cars, cars

Thank you
to the great consciousness
for a good sleep
After six nights awake
you slept ok, too
you say, considering
all the ghosts you’re chasing


I wait in the car
while you carry away
bags of Rie’s clothes
The clerk says
her clothes sold
right away. You’re
worried you might
see someone else
walking down the street
in her coat and shoes.
She loved her clothes
Dressing for her
was an art—


Take it down

Take down the door
where she hung her body
and throw it away—

Slowly throw
everything away
paint and rearrange
the apartment

Make it new
Make it different

Unhinged, leaning
against the building
with a black mark on the top

Her room was your
childhood room

Week by week
leaning there
then lying
on the curb

Late one night
you carry it
down the avenue
leave it
on the side of
a brownstone
moved here
moved there
then one day


When I’m with
my grandchildren
my own childhood
seems so far away
like a small
room in my head
the time with
my children, too—
Here, then gone
so quickly
slow at the time
ever permanent
the present moment
but now I see it
speeding away
and I feel their losses
in advance of their losses


Walking downhill
on 13th Street
under the trees
So lucky
to live near
these trees
and the park
After years
of tough
I now appreciate
After standing
at the busstop
for 5 minutes
Vavoom, a bus appears
on the horizon
around the corner
and stopping
right here


What we do—
to emerge
from that helpless

writing and renovating
yoga   yoga   yoga
piano   piano   piano

Breathing and heartrate
in sync
very important



Downhill on 14th Street
toward 7th Avenue
I walk with
Peter Bushyeager
We share family
stories, tragedies
admiring the quiet
Brooklyn neighborhood
The East Village, he says
is back now to an earlier time
raw and dangerous again

How to encourage
the pigeons to vacate
my window ledge
They are moaning
Very resistant
Probably cold
But other ledges
exist elsewhere


I remember you as
a little boy on your skateboard
your ponytail, your humor
always making us laugh

Today I sat on my glasses and bent them
A new variant of Covid: The Omicron
Back with the mask. Back with distance

You’re feeling better
and calling less frequently

One must learn to live
with memories
without being
overwhelmed by them
in the present*


On the sidewalk
people buzz by
in couples or looking
to couple, pushing
strollers or preparing
to push strollers
busy busy just
going along from
puberty to adolescence
to parenthood
everyone working
so hard. When young
like this, our hormones
keep us from
feeling the end—

How hard I work
to stay alive
on the periphery
watching them
as they pass me by


Last night
I dreamt
the room was
dark and dank
Allen was upstairs
He had just died
When the police
opened the door
his body was curled
up on its side
covered with
a cotton blanket
—my blanket


What would have
happened, you
wonder if you had
woken up and
caught her
before she died
When one hangs
one’s body, I say
death is almost
If you were able
to get there, maybe
within a moment
you might have
saved her, but most
likely she would
have suffered
brain damage

This may sound
awful, you say
but it’s the truth
I didn’t want Rie
to die. I loved her
but lately I’m
happy to be alone


We drive out to
Linnée and Greg’s
on Long Island
sing happy birthday.
Logan’s thirteen today
towering over Linnée
and me. Luke’s
fifteen and even taller
You play basketball
with the boys
and we watch a video
from a few years ago
two little tykes
dancing to
“I Like Turtles”—
Now their thighs
are like long logs.

July 2021 - February 2022

*Bessel Van der Kolk


Barbara Henning

Barbara Henning is the author of five novels and eight collections of poetry, most recently a novelized biography of her mother, Ferne, a Detroit Story (Spuyten Duyvil 2022) and a collection of poems, Digigram (United Artists Books 2020). She is also the editor of Prompt Book: Experiments for Writing Poetry and Fiction (Spuyten Duyvil 2021). Born in Detroit, she has lived in NYC since 1984 with a year in India and five in Tucson. Presently she lives and writes in Brooklyn.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2022

All Issues