Starshine Road

L. I. Henley

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.

Buying Food

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


Listen to “We Girls,” read by L. I. Henley:

Listen to “Starshine Road,” read by L. I. Henley:

“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 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
“The Mojave, in the end, forms this collection. It gives it blood and propulsion and meaning. The desert lays bare Henley’s life and dreams, her regrets and humanity. She has managed to open herself up for us, welcoming us into this world, to this high desert love story.” —Travis Cravey, Glass: A Journal of Poetry
“The desert is rarely a place that people think about to seek comfort or refuge. In fact, the desert is too often framed as a wasteland. But Henley shows readers the duality of the place … In Starshine Road, Henley shows us junk piles, a father’s anger, a grandfather’s guns and lost memory, an unknown illness, a town’s economic despair—all these memories baring teeth. Yet, because of the duality of the desert, she also shows the care of a lover, luminescent star-fall, and other beauties … These are poems of loss, of desire, unambiguous and large, poems about memory and fortitude. These are poems to take with you when walking. These are poems to read under starlight.” —Laura Maher, The Bind (review features accompanying collage inspired by Starshine Road)
“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.” — Sonja Johanson, RHINO Poetry
Starshine Road shows us that the Mojave Desert is a place deeply deserving of poetry, a land imbued with the stark contrasts that inspire strong emotion. L. I. Henley has written a book that reveals the true nature of this implacable place, too often ignored and undervalued, as a mysterious and fascinating land.” —Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones
“The eye of childhood is large and clear: it is innocent and perceptive, unrelenting and illuminating. In Starshine Road, L. I. Henley brings her reader back to her earliest years ... Like the desert in which she came of age, Henley’s poems are wild, strong, and without apology.” —Leanna Stead, Main Street Rag

Author photograph by Troy Miller

L. I. Henley

L.I. Henley was born and raised in the Mojave Desert town of Joshua Tree, California. She is the author of six books including Starshine Road, her second full-length collection which won the 2017 Perugia Press Prize, the novella-in-verse, Whole Night Through, and the poetry and art book From the moon, as I fell with artist Zara Kand. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rhino, Waxwing, Tupelo, Diode, Zone 3, Tinderbox, The American Literary Review, Thrush, Ninth Letter, and Arts & Letters. Her essay, “Drive!” was chosen by Jason Allen as the winner of the Arts & Letters/Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction in 2020. Visit her at

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