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.
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
BIO: 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.