My first AWP in Chicago was an exciting one – it was my hometown, I was staying with my friend Rachel for her first AWP, and I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy Longhorn at the reading for the release of A Face to Meet the Faces. We had a great conversation while we waited for the reading to begin, and a virtual poetry friendship was born. I have been even luckier to be able to read Sandy’s work, which is full of landscape and lush language. This poem, originally appearing at Terrain, was one of the first poems by Sandy that I read:
Assets & Heirs
The map you left behind on your death
contains no borders and no names—
just topography that fades from dense
forest green to desert beige, the course
of rivers marked in thick, black lines
bending around the outcrops, the creeks
thin and faint. Loved ones gather
to annotate this web of mysteries.
Legendless and faced with unknown terrain,
they fumble figuring north from south.
Only the youngest knows where to draw
the skeletal tree to mark your grave,
where to dig for the singed remains
of the hummingbird moth you plucked
from the campfire flame, singing
Now, now, you’ve blazed enough for us
I love the idea that you leave behind a map when you are gone, that only the most innocent realize that what’s important (the assets) are memories, especially the moments of wonder and wisdom that you shared. The sound echoes in the poem – dense/course, creeks/mysteries, terrain/grave/remains, plucked/us – give a sense of traditional couplets but break their two-line prisons without using exact rhymes. And the last line resonates beautifully with the theme of elegy and heirs.
Sandy’s newest book The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths is on my must read attentively list for the first week out of school when I can give it the attention it deserves. (I have dipped in and out of it the past few weeks, and it is bursting with the mysteries and magic of the land.) She blogs at Myself the Only Kangaroo Among the Beauty.
If you want to write:
1. Use Sandy’s first line as a Mad Lib of sorts: ” The _________ you left behind on you death contains no ______________and no _________________.” Use that line as the first line of your poem.
2. Write about the things that only the youngest know.