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Sandy Longhorn


Sandy Longhorn
Cautionary Tale of Girls and Birds of Prey

Once there was a girl who knew the hawk's eye was on her,
the perching branch in the oldest oak loomed outside

her bedroom window. In the hunting time, the girl ran
between the house and barn to do her chores. She ducked

at any sudden shift in the wind and stifled her need to cry,
a sound she knew from mice, chipmunks, and rabbits.

Only the snakes went quietly when plucked from the grass,
but she knew their writhing was a form of screaming.

Soon, her father grew impatient with her fear and began to bait
the bird with offerings of bloody chunks of beef.

He meant to calm the girl through exposure, though her eyes
glassed over at each feeding. In the fall, the bird struck,

sinking talons through the tendons of her neck, into the muscles
on her back, catching her beneath the shoulder blades and lifting.

In the end, the pain and the wind ripped any sound from her throat,
but her father saw her from a distance, twisting. No time to reach

the rifle, no time to raise an alarm. Instead, he built a shrine
worshipped what she left behind: a lock of hair, a baby's tooth,

dried blood on a bandage, her prayers for protection:
a jewelry box filled with bits of fur, the bones of smaller prey.


Prairie Innocent

Girl among the clover, pressure of prairie winds-

The compass plant points north and south, draws
lightning down the ten-foot taproot, so say the Ponca.

The girl dreams that the aquifer boils briefly beneath the soil.

Steaming subterranean, cleansing wildfire-
The girl knows when to flee, when to embrace its heated tongues.

The warmth has a way of cracking hulls, allowing new shoots.

Native grasses run deep roots, and in his dominion
her father names them: blazing star, lady's slipper, Turk's cap,

creamy indigo, and the delicate white-fringed prairie orchid.

Big bluestem, girl among the remnant stalks-
She walks the path of bison and elk, crawls

into tangled tunnels formed by fox, coyotes, and badgers.

Her mother scolds, pulling strands of grass from her hair.
The girl will be made to learn to protect the results of human labor,

barns, row crops, and the orchard of scorched fruit trees.

Fairy Tale for Girls in Love with Fire

It began in a year of drought. The horizon
caught fire and the eldest girl fell
for the smell of smoke, craved the heat
of flame and ember. Every adult tried
to hold her back from running toward

the leaping fervor. Every adult prayed
she'd tire of fighting her way through
the parched corn stalks, the ears now dry
in their flaking husks, prayed her throat
would fill with smoke and she'd turn back
to douse herself with water.

They thought they'd won when darkness
arrived and she returned along the gravel road,
collecting brittle, dried-out wildflowers.
She wove stiff chains to wind around
her waist, her wrists, her throat and ankles.

                                            All summer long
the girl refused to remove her fragile jewels,
her long hair gone to tangles with the stems.
Her mother fussed and her father raged
and in their hearts was fear because they knew
their daughter had made her body a fuse.

In the end, while no one knows who struck
the match, she didn't have to run to meet
the prairie fire. Instead, she welcomed the spark
into her own lap, became nothing but a blaze.
No amount of water could stop her burning.

                                  -from The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths


Poems - Bio - Reviews - Interviews - Reading

Sandy Longhorn is the author of The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, winner of the 2013 Jacar Press Full Length Poetry Book Contest, forthcoming, and Blood Almanac, winner of the 2005 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. New poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Hayden's Ferry Review, Hotel Amerika, North American Review, and elsewhere. Longhorn teaches at Pulaski Technical College, where she directs the Big Rock Reading Series, and for the low-residency MFA Program at the University of Arkansas Monticello. In addition, she co-edits the online journal Heron Tree and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty.


Poems - Bio - Reviews - Interviews - Reading

A Review of Sandy Longhorn's The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths by Angele Ellis, first published at Weave Magazine

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of winestains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running. ―Willa Cather, My Antonia

In her second full-length collection (winner of the Jacar Press 2013 Full Length Book Contest), Sandy Longhorn reanimates Cather’s prairie—a fierce, enchanted landscape that becomes as fully realized as the people who inhabit, fight, and succumb to it. Like the dreamy and defiant girls of her fairy tales and myths, Longhorn’s prairie—an anthropomorphic presence, half-human, half-monster—seems to be running, as in “Fairy Tales for Girls in Love with Fire”:
…The horizon
caught fire and the eldest girl fell
for the smell of smoke, craved the heat
of flame and ember. Every adult tried
to hold her back from running toward
the leaping fervor… (38)
All four elements (fire, earth, wind, and water) contribute to the seduction and destruction of Longhorn’s yearning “girls,” in the throes of adolescent angst intensified by the isolation of Longhorn’s personified prairie, and by the patriarchs and matriarchs who abide by its harsh rules. In “Cautionary Tale for Girls Kept Underground in Summer,” a girl abandoned in a “clammy” basement by parents who “had lives to live / in the heat above the ground” becomes part of the earth itself:
…curled in upon herself, her fingers digging, digging
at the crack until she could slip her hands closer
to the dirt. They found her there, immovable,

her limbs tangled in the dense bed of roots, her speech
the foreign tongue of all things planted. (2)
And in “Fairy Tale for Girls Enthralled by the Storm,” “a girl who loved the prairie wind,” and whose father is “unnerved / by the way she smiled like a woman” bides her time until a season of tornadoes provides her with an otherworldly means of escape:
 …One night she slipped from bed and walked
into the rain. She took her place on that slight rise,

called out, was ready to be lifted and transformed. (35)
Longhorn’s precise language, alliterative lyricism, and masterful use of rhyme schemes ground her poems, making their fantastic endings both plausible and moving. Another technique that Longhorn uses brilliantly is the repetition of certain words in her titles and poems, including fairy, tale, cautionary, map, cartography, saint, girl(s). This repetition draws the reader into Longhorn’s spell—as when reading a book of fairy tales—transforming Longhorn’s stories into the reader’s.

Perhaps no story is complete without blood, and without the bloodlines that connect us to the artist’s past, as well as to our own. In “Midwest Nursery Tales,” a fox kills a girl who wanders heedlessly into a ripe field of alfalfa:
…all they found
were her shoes and a patch of blood-red

poppies. Each year those flowers bloomed
no matter how deeply they tilled the soil. (5)
In “It Matters, the Kind of Wound,” “poppies & chilies” bloom from a soil whose accumulated blood “…seeps and stains, marking a new / navigational point—a compass rose, / useless to the one who bled it.” (9)

Bloodlines become particularly poignant in the last of this book’s four sections, “Cartography as Elegy,” which moves from feminist mythmaking to speak more directly of life and death. Armed with “…a map of my home well folded, / creased along gossamer bloodlines” (“Autobiography as Cartography”) (53), Longhorn explores her family history. Throughout “In the Delicate Branches,” she traces her grandmother and mother’s decline:
The mortality of her elders leads the poet to the realization that she may be the last branch of her family tree, in “Choosing Not to Bear”:

            …Strong bones and a healthy body
can only take a person so far. At some point the heart
has to do its own bidding. At some point you
have to admit that the wolf guards the door. (55)
…Now, as the hourglass of my womb empties,
I refuse to turn
the moonlight sands
on end again…
yet my empty womb is a bursting star…

                      Meanwhile, my mother
lines her life with the silver and gold
            of her last,
                                  her starburst daughter… (56)
As Willa Cather’s “starburst daughter[s]” (in Longhorn’s phrase) rise from the prairie waves to seek and find personal and professional freedom—or in some cases, to be tragically pulled under—so do Sandy Longhorn’s. As Cather makes her “running” prairie the archetypical American heartland, reaching far beyond regionalism to capture the imagination and sympathy of a wide audience, so does Sandy Longhorn in The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.
Poems - Bio - Reviews - Interviews - Reading
Click here to read an interview with Sandy Longhorn at The Collagist
Click here to read an interview with Sandy Longhorn at Connotation Press
Click here to view a reading by Sandy Longhorn at Laman Library

Click here to buy Sandy's newest book

Sandy Longhorn

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