Some think we make too much
of bones.
You never see them
but after a bad accident
or a battle
or when the years have eaten
everything else men are.


Dogs are an exception.
And armies.
Never too many bones
for them.


I like to think sometimes
of burrowing inside bones
for their dry marrow—
though the bones have to be broken,
and violence still offends
some few of us.


I watched a farmer
put down in a tin plate
a ham for his cats.
I said: Too salty.

Driving home,
I thought again: Marrow.


What bones wear—
now that’s worth your time.
Little girls
with small bones like
a sparrow’s skeleton;
tall girls
with graceful bones
like poplars;
big girls whose bones
are weapons.


When we are old
I imagine your skeleton
antique ivory
and your muscles lace
to prettify only,
and your flesh and blood
something tiresome
contrived to hide the truth
like muslin over porcelain.


A list of white objects:
clean pebbles
mad water
your smile



Children, I will make
a playground of bones:
swings from the pelvises
of long-distance runners,
jungle-gyms as femoral
as giraffes in a dream,
slides scapular and swift
as bowing before the wind,
and drinking fountains
from opened skulls
the souvenirs of war.


If we did not have our bones
we could shape ourselves
however we desired,
and there would be no poetry.


In nightmares of the Last Judgment
the bones of several million years
slide recklessly across our sleep
like the scrape of coal in a chute.


The bones of lesser animals
have their own integrity—
small and large, predator
and prey, field creature
or woods-kind or burrower.
Walking with your woman
on a July evening, finding
a small skeleton at your feet,
you hold her soft hand tighter.

Animals neither know nor care
what keeps body and soul
together, nor how many bones
their wholeness contains,
nor what death does to them,
nor what they leave behind.

Ask foxes and hedgehogs and
the rabbits still as stone
in the corners of meadows:
they will say how they meet
the bones of their fellows
and pass by as free as ever.


You and I are only
an attractive tapestry
our bones flaunt.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 17 Number 3, on page 39
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