On Light and Leaving

by L.I. Henley and Laura Maher




I like to take long walks at dusk, summer still
rising up from sidewalks, or where there are no sidewalks, dirt,
the street. I like to look into the light from my neighbor’s windows,
not into their windows exactly, but the light from within.

The lights in my neighborhood burn like I like to think
my body does: not a thing in movement exactly, but the edge of energy,
possibility, warmth.

Light can do this.

It can make me think that my body does not
define me, does not
possess me, does not behave like a house I live in.
The light can be turned on or off. Can glow white or yellow, can show
the depth of a space. A room off a room off a room. A place to throw a voice.

A light like an echo or a memory.

I like long walks, but when I write to you I have to speak
to my poem to remember.
I say, Poem, don’t leave me. Poem, stay.

Years ago, when I was sick and sure I wouldn’t walk again,
I spoke to my body this way.
I said, Body, don’t leave me. Body, stay.

Does a body know a thing before a mind has taught it?

At dusk tonight, the orange edge of a sunset could be seen at the tree line, far off,
past the familiar slope of roofs, the angle like praying hands
beginning to come together, or like prayer itself.

The light can do this,
make me think about praying.

A plane left a sharp trail, the light like a zipper to the evening sky.
I tried to get a picture for you, but an iPhone at dusk
does not see the light like I do.

Years ago, before I was very sick, before I knew anything
about bodies, my high school boyfriend and I drove
to the top of Campbell, to look at city lights and kiss. From far off, the lights looked
dangerous. Or it was these risks: the driving, the parking. The aloneness.

We sat on the hood of his parents’ station wagon
and waited to get the nerve.

He had a small notebook
stored in the glove compartment to record the mileage
to every tank of gas. What was learned, I still don’t know, except I knew
I liked his hands reaching across, his hands catching in the light
pouring from the windshield, his hands reaching across but not touching
my thighs, the lead scratch of pencil on paper.

How precious it can be to desire youth and maturity at once, light and dark, touch and absence.
I said, Don’t leave me. It hasn’t.

I wonder: do you pray? Find any usefulness in your memories about your youth?
Do you see a light in the desert like a beacon or a warning?

It’s summer now, and perhaps it always has been—the light can do this.
Closer than my own body’s hum, this light. The bats, called by dusk, their small bodies
cast against the sky, and all the while, I’ve walked beneath them, talking
to myself, the poem, saying: don’t forget.

*   *   *


We’ve never met, but I can see you
or the you I’ve conjured from a long stare
into campfire fed by greasewood,
this you taking walks in a desert
somehow sister to my own, bats overhead, bats seen and unseen like webs,

like halos around the moon, with or without
the knowledge that the bones of bats
are similar to those in your hands.

Does a body know a thing before the mind has taught it?

For over a year, I too lost the ability to walk
for more than a few minutes at a time.

Standing was also a chore.

I remember, once, abandoning a full cart of groceries,
unable to stand in line a second more.

We were living in a resort town, yet another desert.
Jobless, we told our neighbors we were retired.

My husband would carry me, at dusk, to the community pool
where I would swim with just my arms.

The water against my skin was painful.

Just the pressure of existence, a weight that encompasses, drowns a stone.

Even the white cotton sheets crushed against me, everything heavy, spackled with grit.

Surely my body asked to be taught what the heat had done,
what dazzling mirage had taken shape,
wind-spun and dizzy on the salt flats?

What happens when the mind loses the scent,
can’t recover the tracks
of the body, or worse, sees the footprints gone into the shimmer
that looks so much like water?

Have you ever sunk yourself to the bottom of a pool, legs crossed,
eyes open, just to let your breath
right itself in globes of leaving light,
just to be sure a part of you still knows
which way is up?

Listen—if I have ever prayed,
it was in that community pool at dusk,
body prone in the breaststroke, arms parting water,
arms carrying the rest of me forward,

my body’s gliding as good as any answer,
the same bats as now snatching
emerald beetles from the air, seen and unseen,
having blessed me all along.



L.I. Henley was born and raised in the Mojave Desert town of Joshua Tree, California. She is the author of two chapbooks, Desert with a Cabin View, and The Finding (Orange Monkey Publishing). Her second full-length collection, Starshine Road, won the 2017 Perugia Press Prize. She is the recipient of The Academy of American Poets University Award, The Duckabush Prize in Poetry chosen by Lia Purpura. You can find some of her poems at Glass, Rhino, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rust + Moth, River Styx, DIAGRAM, Waxwing, Phoebe, and Entropy. Her newest poetry collection, Whole Night Through, will be available in October of 2019 from What Books Press of Santa Monica.

Laura Maher is the author of the chapbook, Sleep Water (dancing girl press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared in Crazyhorse, Moonsick Magazine, The Collagist, New Ohio Review, and Third Coast. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arizona, a Master of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She lives, works, and writes in Tucson, Arizona.

Back to Vol. IV: “Wonder”