Sandy Longhorn: A Self-Exphrasis


            To Live in a House of Grief

The girl born reaching
                                    insists
            on curves and swerves
adores lush fringe and silk
                                         bent
            on catching the light let in
to a room ruled
            by mourning’s rigid lines,
its cloaked shadows.
                             In househush,
she trails her fingers
            on the stair’s staggered
                                                spindles,
skips the splintered one, puts
                                    another penny
            in the hoarding jar,
tucks the ruby earring in a fist
                        until it dents her skin.

She has seen the sun
                                 flash
on the coyote’s gold-flecked
coat, has heard the howl and yip
                                                disturb
                                    silent rooms.
The girl spends her days plotting,
            praying, casting spells
intent on luring in
                            the light-footed beast,
hers, then, to swaddle and adore,
                        a steady heartbeat beneath
her hand,
            soft ears poised to receive
her confession.

            Nº 5: Mid-July

Radiant heat collects
                                in sand,
            stone, and steel,
huddles in the husks
        shucked
     and hung to dry, pools
            in the orange belly
                                          of sunfish,
hums in the frantic spin
                                    of lights
along the fair’s midway.
                        The whole world
                                                sweats
and hungers to measure tenths
                                    of inches of rain.
Curled leaves taunt
                              with cool shadow-pockets
            and in lakes gone shallow
                        fins push deeper
to find the scrim of colder
                                         depths.
            We are left to rest
                                    in shadowed rooms
to fumble with a formula
                        that might return
us to bodies of lesser tempers
            more apt to offer hands
that clasp
                        instead of reaching
for the dragon tongue’s
quick slap.

            Superficial and Deep Muscles

Disrobed of skin,
                        the body reveals
            a map of muscle
and sinew, the fine
            connective tissue—
the Anatomist’s hand intent
            on reflecting the perfect
                        pattern, the rosy health
of blood well-circulated,
            fat evaporated by proper
movement of all the limbs—
                        a Figure carved
            by scaling rocks,
laying brick, taking steps
            to be out in the world
out from under the clock’s
                        smooth sedation.
            Yet, as she draws,
the Anatomist knows
            her own body prefers
to lounge and lap
                        honeyed whiskey,
            to lick the grease
from thickened fingers.
            She does not mourn
the buttons lost—
                        her work all eye
            and hand, the brain’s
ability to imagine
            a body light enough
to float or fly.

Sandy Longhorn’s Artistic Statement

These pieces were created as part of a project I titled 20 x 20: A Self-Exphrasis, which began in the summer of 2016. Stymied after the publication of my third book, I began to wonder if I would ever have another creative obsession again, if I would ever find a topic that compelled me to write again. I found myself drifting more and more to the visual art of collage, but I knew there were still poems to write. In working with students on ekphrastic poems, I suddenly wondered what I might discover if I wrote ekphrastic poems about my own art, if I opened a dialogue between my two, until then, separate creative voices.

During this project, I first created the collages, all the while actively trying not to think about poetry and trying to let the images beneath my hands drive the work. These collages follow the tradition of lyric poetry, favoring strong imagery over narrative. Only when all 20 collages had been completed did I begin drafting the corresponding poems. The visual impulses in the collages sparked the poems, and for the most part, the poems did not stray far from the visual clues.

The braiding of collage and exphrasis resulted in this new, hybrid work, in which I see the poems and images as inseparable. My hope is that each informs the other and that the audience only receives the complete message when taking them in together.

Sandy Longhorn is the 2016 recipient of the Porter Fund Literary Prize and the author of three books of poetry. The Alchemy of My Mortal Form, her latest book, won the 2014 Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press. Her other books are The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths and Blood Almanac. Her poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, diode, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hotel Amerika, The Southeast Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and in many more literary journals and anthologies. Longhorn holds a BA in English from the College of St. Benedict and an MFA in poetry from the University of Arkansas. Longhorn teaches in the Arkansas Writers MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where she directs The C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference. In addition, she blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty

Sandy Longhorn’s Website 

Sandy Longhorn at EIL: Poems 

Sandy Longhorn at EIL: Guest Blogger 

The Poetry of Roof Repair at EIL 

Review of  The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths at EIL