Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths - Sandy Longhorn (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.  Sandy Longhorn.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2013.

"Once there was a girl" named Sandy Longhorn who traveled in time to discover The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.  I suspect she dug it up from under the floorboards of some dusty and forgotten shack.

And now Longhorn has the temerity to claim these myths as her own.  Clever work.

Midwest Nursery Tales

In the stories, someone's always lost
amid the cornstalks, crushed beneath

a tractor's wheel, or swept away
in a flooding season. Most nights,

the children ask for the one about the girl
who refused to mind, who followed

a pair of moths into a field of alfalfa
ready for reaping. The girl trailed

the papery wings through a maze of grass,
ignoring her mother's wind-pitched voice.

Out of earshot, a fox appeared, chased her
dizzy and nipped her heels until she fell.

When the searchers arrived, 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.


Well bless Sandy Longhorn's cotton socks because The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths is a spectacular read.  It could just as easily been called "A Cautionary Compendium and Glossary to the Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths".

Longhorn's west is a harsh, bloody place and the women of the prairie are called upon in ways that test the limits of the most vigorous hearted.

But these are strong, strong women.

Cautionary Tale for Girls Caught Up in the Machinery

Once there was a girl who dreamt each night of tools,
the hammer's heft and the wrench's clamping jaws,
her favorite pair of pliers, handles worn smooth
from twisting taut the new-strung wire.

She burned the roast, sewed uneven hems, but knew
what needed tightening before her father spoke
his soft commands. They worked as an efficient pair
and some days he forgot his lack of sons.

But then she reached a certain age and the dreams
began to change, tools transformed to the teeth
of rabid dogs, the flailing hooves of horses driven
to crush her bones, anything wild and out for blood.

Her mind gone soft from lack of sleep, she forgot
to kill the tractor's engine and felt her sleeve
brush the humming belt. In the span of one quick breath,
she was pulled into the belly of that greasy beast.

When her father came to find what took so long,
there was nothing there. Nothing save a tractor
with an engine seized and a scrap of cloth,
nothing to prove she hadn't simply wandered off.


Longhorn never takes a short-cut and never takes the pressure off.  In her prairie universe women are constantly being called upon to survive the most arduous challenges.

These poems read like an almanac of continuous wonder.  Longhorn's voice in these poems has the force of astuteness to it.  These myths all sound and feel like fully formed historical words of wisdom, true myths that Longhorn has pulled out of the ether.


Stopping the car, we let the dust return
to the gravel road behind us. Ahead
is the house, our destination, engulfed
in tall grass, which requires a wading
through weeds and pockets of thicket,
a fending off of all that bites and stings.

Because we must approach what haunts us
with gifts in our hands, we make ready.

We unwrap the cloth that protects
the owl's claw tangled in trumpet vine,
loosed the lid on the jar of fireflies,
although it is day and they appear to sleep.
Draping our shoulders with red silk scarves,
we dip one fingers each into the fat pot
of honey, harvested only miles from here.

We are not burdened by these offerings.
Threading the remnants of a path, we arrive
at the door intact, calling out the name
of our beloved, a song rising from the grass.


Today's book of poetry loved this book.  It is taut and menacingly tasty poetry.

Sandy Longhorn

I am interested in where lyric and narrative intersect, in working with the strengths in each of these forms. I am interested in white space and line breaks, in the way silence creates room in which words collide and ricochet. I am interested in the kind of tension that can be made visually and linguistically with letters placed on the page. And I am interested in sound, in how the repetition of sounds creates density and intensity within lines, stanzas, and entire poems.

These sly, beautifully crafted poems inhabit and haunt the heart-land. Sandy Longhorn is a poet with the gifts of observation and imagination. An original voice with a knack for telling tales.
— Stuart Dischell, Backward Days, Dig Safe, Evenings & Avenues, Good Hope Road (Viking Press)

The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths is a stunning collection of poems. With her gift for startling images and precise music, Sandy Longhorn converts the normally peaceful vision of the prairie into a place that perpetually threatens to turn innocence into a cautionary tale. In these poems, young girls discover haunting consequences for “refusing to mind.” Disobedience transforms girls through underground language or the bright forgetfulness of poppies. In this landscape formed by
elegy and glaciers, everything worshiped is dead or wounded, yet Longhorn’s imagination and lyricism resurrects these myths so you can “taste the light his body had foretold.”
— Traci Brimhall, Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize

Sandy Longhorn
reading "Gracie's Great Adventure"
Tin Roof Project #44


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