Blood Almanac by Sandy Longhorn


Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (2005)

"Say prairie," the speaker instructs and thus the persuasive music of these poems calls us "into the darkness or the future." Whether evoking the very American landscape of Midwestern farms or tracing a more interior journey, Sandy Longhorn writes not only of solitude and longing but also of the power of language and its mysterious twin, quiet attention, to brighten the way. Here is the accuracy of faith. Here, a series of "momentary constellations" flickering. Here, poems "both diary and document/ held open and up to the light." -- Mary Ann Samyn

Sandy Longhorn writes beautifully and convincingly of the Great Plains and of her native Iowa. Her vision of that landscape's open skies and flatland and distance seems richer and more nuanced than any I have seen before. She sings of its unsung inhabitants in musical, authentic, and moving lines. A necessary and great first book. -- Davis McCombs

This is a beautiful yet modest and unassuming book, one that claims less than it accomplishes, transfiguring personal narrative and landscape into things rich and strange, yet always still themselves: in it, "The air is heavy with the desire to claw beneath/the surfaces of things." This work gives voice to and raises its voice out of "the voice-swallowing plains," and the harsh midwestern prairies that yield their harvest only to the strictest effort are both subject matter and formal analogy for these paradoxically lush and austere poems. "I mean to be accurate/and true," Longhorn writes. If accuracy is faithfulness to fact, and truth is the halo that illuminates and transforms fact, this book is indeed both. -- Contest judge Reginald Shepherd


My grandparents' Buick is wide,
                                         rides smooth
on this newly minted asphalt as we visit
half-forgotten cemeteries
near Nashua,
and Charles City,
grass grown up in the ruts of tree-lined drives.

Alongside the car, barn swallows
                                          swoop and skim ditches
full of bursting cattails and milkweed pods,
everything gone to seed at last,
even the field on my grandfather's farm --

three decades now out of our hands,
out of the almanac in our blood.

The alfalfa stalks brush
                               the broad chest
of an Appaloosa mare.  Along her flank,
my grandfather calls up the ghosts of his Clydesdale team:
Dot, Beauty, Byrd, and Spot.

Everything capable grazes beneath a fleet of clouds.

In the field's southwest corner
a granite boulder
shoulders the horizon
like a sack of feed, sun catching mica flints
in the rock's grain,
       dazzling as any city skyline at dusk.



Too long alone again and words clutter,
hover behind my clenched teeth, my mouth
no longer sure what slight adjustments equal speech.

My tongue is the petal of a tulip touched by frost.
My throat, in the next year, will belong to the hawk
or the fat, black garden snake lying dormant
now in the crawlspace beneath the house.

Winter is made of this muteness and these windows
and the long view of white fields through icy glass
where nothing moves and nothing raises its voice.


From the Outpost

The wind is in the pampas-grass today,
a sound like flames rushing through tinder.

From the doorway, I've called to you three times,
your name a trumpet of its own and silver
on my scuttled tongue. The frogs make answer,
something half-cricket, half-bird and newly emerged
from the mud. Their song lures me into thaw.

For now, I've left a week's worth of laundry
on the line while I doze in the first sharp sun
since the days turned round the equinox
and slowly began to lengthen. Listen!
The earth gives back the ice by seeping.

Your last note said, "Still no hummingbirds"
and included a sketch of the ruby throat
and spindly beak. I tucked it behind the nest
we found last fall, woven with lichen
and spider silk. When you see them hover
at the lip of the bee balm and jewelweed,
pack your bags. Send word to me.

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