I wore a black cape & yellow skates
he wore a Kevlar vest
We did not know we were afraid
Occasionally my ear would pop
against my father’s gun-hip
bloom a silent red
When I hugged him
his gold star pressed cold against my cheek
He would see a pervert
squeeze my shoulder point like a hunting dog
at a man buying birthday candles
or lingering by the cheese
Twenty years on the same streets
& you just know
No one seemed to notice how our blue shadows
swept the aisles
& so we lived without her chose cans & boxes
that looked the most like food
In L. I. Henley’s Starshine Road, a collection set in the isolated, shifting Mojave Desert terrain of Joshua Tree, California, we are witness to the underside of a rural life near the world’s largest Marine Corps base juxtaposed with hundreds of miles of national park. Traversing a land that could not be more real, but which often feels like dreamscape, these poems explore the dangers and treasures of one’s birthplace: a dog and his homeless master, an infamous Amboy creosote, a junk pile, flawed cops, grieving mothers, and their wild, muscled, unpredictable boys. The junkyard appearing in several poems becomes a microcosm for the poet’s world – glittering, mysterious, and scrappy, something to be drawn to despite its raggedness. Part spirit quest, part inventory of what is loved and irrevocably lost to the elements, Henley evokes the exacting gaze of the desert in this stellar collection.
L. I. Henley’s stunning new book, Starshine Road, deals with coming of age in the Mojave, with nothing softened or left out, not the haunt that animates the stillness, not the junk piles, wrecked homesteads, ruined families, not the way grief is washed down through slot canyons into alluvial fans deep enough to bury a girl. These poems are willing to be homesick for the entire desert including its extra dimensions, to lean beyond human into animal mind, to be afraid, to wander naturally through fear’s kingdom, through the little dangers and the large, under the dark metal of night pitted with scattershot stars.
– Marsha de la O
Staring down unsettling aspects of her youth, L. I. Henley combs through shards of her rough terrain, while mapping her own desert gothic in this brilliant new collection of poems. She reveals “the swirling dust lit / by a pickup’s low beams,” and she knows where there are “branches of juniper glowing pink / under Sam’s neon sign.” Armed with gutsiness and linguistic radiance, she sings about a ghostly shoe tree and for those people who have touched her life. Never forgetting she’s on Starshine Road, Henley persists in finding talismans glinting with promise and possibility.
– Molly Bendall
The clarity and ingenuity with which L. I. Henley attends her subjects in Starshine Road is instantly engaging. The details crackle. The circumstances and finely-tuned emotions envelop you. Here is an accessible poetic voice replete with acuity and grace. Her style feels like fresh air.
– Marvin Bell
Check out this interview with L.I. Henley on the poet’s billow. Here’s an excerpt: “Junk is a part of my imaginative landscape, and I use it synonymously with the word ‘treasure.’ Both of my childhood homes were absolutely brimming with objects of the past—glass insulators from abandoned telephone poles, antique glassware, railroad ties, all varieties of colorful ephemera. The desert in general attracts such eclectic trappings. Every yard of every desert house I’ve lived in was a field of exotic landmines—shards of goblets and bottles, masonry nails, rusted wire, marbles, half-buried toy soldiers, rare coins, crystals, bottle caps, arrowheads. Go out on almost any dirt road in Landers or Joshua Tree, and you’ll find abandoned couches or a pile of tires or part of a car that’s been shot up. These items are the artifacts of all kinds of stories—some of them violent, some of them humdrum and workaday and fitting for the kinds of people who live here. The pile in Starshine Road stands for many things, most of which I’m not conscious of, but one of them is indeed longing.”
Check out Greg Gilbert’s review of Starshine Road online at Badlands on their “Work We Admire” page, along with a poem from the book, “A Dollar (for a funeral).”
Check out this interview on L. I. Henley’s local NPR affiliate, KVCR, about the changing landscape of her hometown of Joshua Tree, CA, a terrain she drew on heavily for inspiration for her Perugia Press book, Starshine Road. The article includes a recording which features Henley reading snippets of her poems and a scene from her reading series venue, the Beatnik Lounge.
Here’s an excerpt from a beautiful review of the 2017 Perugia Press Prize winner, L. I. Henley’s Starshine Road, in RHINO Poetry. Thanks to Sonja Johanson for her keen eye and careful reading: “Henley’s gaze is unshrinking; she directs our view to rust, junk, discarded shoes, flash floods, poverty and death. But Henley’s stark descriptors are not a denunciation. The thieving grackle is pearlescent, desert lilies bloom red, and a tooth-sized crystal shines in the dirt. These are love poems, but honest ones, written for a place and a life simultaneously hard and precious.”
90 pages, $18.00
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