Born and raised in desert towns hundreds of miles apart, L. I. Henley and Laura Maher were connected through mutual acquaintances in the poetry community in the summer of 2017. Though they’ve never met in person, their correspondence began first over email, then through these poems. The poems trace in real-time the growing connection of two strangers, uncovering a shared archaeological dig of lost loves, regrets, questions, and other half-buried artifacts of memory. Place, both geological and historical, are at the center of their correspondence, as are concerns about climate change, gender-based violence, and political unrest. Writing poems in correspondence allowed them to be both writer and reader; turns out, the differences between those roles are less important than just being present to what develops on the page.
Music / advice
L. I. Henley
I think the best advice I ever got came from music,
how to really feel it when you’ve been wronged, how to slow dance
with your heartache, tune your longing like a trumpet.
The music said, You can stop feeling this anytime you want. But why would you
The sadness had a warmth, like a stove, and I pressed my hips to it.
Would you believe me if I told you that even now, married to my truest love,
I sometimes miss that music? Did you know I sometimes sing?
Blues, mostly. I like it slow like that, predictable in rhyme and bottomless in grief.
I go out walking, after midnight, out in the moonlight...searching for you-eww...
The weeping willow kills me every time.
One time I played the role of a wife pushed to the edge
and died from pills on an outdoor stage while Patsy Cline sang, “Crazy.”
I can’t remember why the wife was depressed, but I’ll never forget
the long-leg spiders all over my body
as I lied there dead.
I was sixteen and had my first on-stage kiss and death all in the same night.
Isn’t that what all girls want—the night-hushed drama of it?
Do you sing? Do you sing when you go out walking under the night sky?
I pretended the crawling, the tickle, was fuzzy light coming down from the stars.
The stars are very close tonight, I told myself. The stars are very bright.
My high school boyfriend had driven all the way to Idyllwild to watch the play on opening night.
I was ready to break up with him, loving the end as much as the beginning,
wanting that good music warm in my hips,
and kissed the boy on stage (my play husband) extra long.
Then I died with a dramatic stagger,
a prolonged, silent gape, my mouth an O that sang out O’s above the heads
of the audience.
That was twenty years ago. I want more kisses, more birthdays, more life.
Still, it was a good, dreamy death—the best I’ve ever had—
with spiders and stars and people watching. My O’s floating off into the pines.
What warmth we have known, turning our cheeks to rest on hot sand,
soaking up sunshine through skin, flushing with desire—for life, or a kiss, for a poem—
or catching spring winds by our hair.
A heat like this—I know it. A heat like this, warmth like I could consume it.
You say—the sadness had a warmth—we know how sadness can be a comfort has much as it can scald.
can my memory of something hot
work as well to prevent a burn, the shock of it blooming
as easily as early spring poppies flush the mountains in gold, in yellow?
These, named California poppies, were blown by warming winds too.
With winter shorter and stranger every year, I return
to all the ways that a human body can scar or mend, can want or create.
Though I will plant my legs firmly into the earth, this tells me
this desert is rare, its frailty its strength.
I look at the mountains,
or hear soft Os drifting from California, and I know just as well that
there’s as much magic as there is science in every transition, I swear.
If I could leave my skin, my body, would I?
L.I. Henley was born and raised in the Mojave Desert town of Joshua Tree, California. She is the author of Desert with a Cabin View, The Finding, These Friends These Rooms, and Starshine Road, which won the 2017 Perugia Press Prize. In October, 2019, What Books Press of Santa Monica will publish her fifth collection, Whole Night Through. Her work has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Zone 3, Spillway, Waxwing, Rhino, and elsewhere.
Laura Maher is the author of the chapbook, Sleep Water (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). Her poetry and prose has appeared in Quarter After Eight, The Common, Crazyhorse, The Collagist, New Ohio Review, and Third Coast. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arizona, a Master of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She lives, works, and writes in Tucson, Arizona.