The Licorice Daughter:
My Year with Ruffian

By Lyn Lifshin

Texas Review Press
copyright 2005

Lyn Lifshin is a prolific poet, with more than 100 books in print and three more coming out, along with a chapbook called "Barbie Poems." The depth and breadth of her imagination jars me, and so does her obvious capacity to sustain hold of an object, concept or desire with words. I loved horses since I began to identify with Black Beauty as a girl and then when Patti Smith began wailing "He saw horses, horses, horses," and I began singing the spiritual "All the Pretty Horses." Never been a race track junkie or even bet on a race, though I can picture the images of the Derby and moments in movies, like Oliver Stone's Nixon, when the horse embodies an aspect of victory lost or won. There's the scene in the Misfits, when Marilyn Monroe convinces Gary Cooper to let the wild horses go, mustangs, palominos, she doesn't care...wild and beautiful they deserve to live and run, not to be made into kennel food.

Well Lyn Lifhsin has chosen a star filly as the object of her book, "Licorice Daughter" and with something of a mother-daughter love, she captures the sleek, sensuous, wickedly fast horse grow from yearling to formidible racer. For she is, at a young age, "a horse that seems to dance on water." Or, a dream-like apparition as in "Some nights I think of Her"...lying quietly all night/as if she knew, for the moment,/her body was her friend/A star on her forehead/A star inside her blood/Herons in the distance/gulls. Her star/color of the/floating lily/

By Saratoga..."She danced to the gate quivering with eagerness, huge and glistening/as if she'd do this as an old mare too/...And too the hint she'd run herself to death, stagger/to the finish line on three legs/

So the fate of this superfilly is prophesied before it ends. Her death is like Giselle's possession by the willies, it is a ballet, almost phonetic in it's precision. Like the horse who legs seemed too long to be real, who made the earth seems to rush under her meets her fate in the last section of the book. In "Shattered, the Licorice Daughter" Lyfshin writes, "When she broke down, she became larger than life./Her perfect record, the licorice daughter,/beauty, filly freak queen./What made her great killed her./

There is so much earthly and unearthly beauty in this devotional collection of poems that the tragedy seems almost peaceful, "On Ruffian's last day, like today, sparrows were flying through the eaves at Belmont/

The book is both about the evolution and the passing of a natural wonder. It is a book I'd recommend for readers of all ages because it's got the fable of a black beauty sewn in it, like the tatoo under Ruffian's lips, the star on her forehead, the black fire of her speed. Beautiful work by Lyn Lifshin.

Lo Galluccio
Ibbetson St. Press Update