Poem of the Week | July 17, 2017

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Bruce Bond. Bond is the author of sixteen books including, most recently, For the Lost Cathedral (LSU Press 2015), The Other Sky (Etruscan Press 2015), Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press 2015), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, University of Tampa Press 2016), and Gold Bee (Crab Orchard Open Competition Award, Southern Illinois University Press 2016). Presently he is Regents Professor at University of North Texas.

Author’s note:

A little marvel, the bone, how little it yields, how much it demands. Just ask a dog when he has a moment, when he is not busy doing what he does with the hunger that never leaves. Ask a dog if bones do not occupy a kind of mythic space, somewhere between the living and dead, between the desire to survive and sad remains of all our striving. Ask a dog if there isn’t something all too human about the leaky nature of anxiety and hunger, how readily it moves consciousness along. In the sequence “Bone,” I did just that, or rather I wanted to. Well, at least I started out somewhat instinctively in hopes some lovable and familiarly ludicrous behavior might say something about how humans work and do not work, how hunger moves up the evolutionary chain, how long the journey to paradise with bones to light the way. In the image of the bone, I hoped to open the dialogue between a number of opposites, not just survival and extinction but also the real and the imagined, earth and the afterlife, anxiety and satisfaction, matter and spirit, the human and the animal, sense and nonsense, language and silence. Also, I was hoping a light step would travel farther, though I knew too that I was probably headed for a vulnerable place. There’s so much about spirit—its engendering of new forms—that does not fit the model of the material, so much that makes problematic the causal interaction of souls and bodies. But the bizarre little fact that life has weight suggests a space not unlike art, or what we imagine art could be, not unlike a sacrament—a space where spirit and matter reunite via the redemptive power of the imagination. Ask any dog, and in your asking you will feel a peculiar distance and, in light of that and the eyes below, a little less alone.






Then my hound lay his head on my leg
and sighed, You know, bones are overrated.


I know, I said, Sad shadow of a meal,
that scent of meat a torment really, a ghost


of better things better left alone.
Do you want one? And his tail said yes,


dogged by a lust for blood and fat
and the promise of a better world


inside the bone, of a body’s final will
and testament inside the residual vault.


He would eat pure hunger if I had some,
and the crackle of the jaw would speak


the words of boots and gravel, and the road,
as hunger promised it, would never end.




That is why I have a dog. And bones
to give away. Pauses in conversation


hilarious with the beasty crumpling.
Because I need a better way to say,


we are only human. I need a yard
full of sticks and lilies to remind me


this plot is mine in name only, this name
a gift I give away. We go way back,


my pooch and I, and he knows I know
he thinks he knows me, when in fact


he does, and lo, a bone. Which is not mine
to give exactly, but that is how it is


with currency changing hands, hands
changing structure. It started with a bone.




My father told me, there really is flesh in there,
embedded in the bone’s matrix of salt.


There is, if you work it, energy to burn.
And after that, more bone, more flesh, more work.


Bodies are overrated, he said, and so
he chose fire in the end. It surprised me,


the weight of ash. Much of which was salt.
Here you carry them, said my brother,


and I imagined a certain substance inside,
without form, save the one we gave it,


like the scent of lilies we name a lily
and lay on the iron sands of the garden.


There really is bone there, I thought, in bronzes
and the bronze tones of those who kneel to read them.




I call my dog, among the other things,
dog. It was his name before him


and will be when we are long forgotten.
Which you is you anyway, I ask him,


and he acts a little here-nor-there.
When it comes to specifics, it’s the voice


he likes, the give and take of it, the music.
There is no free lunch, my father said


when I was small, and then he fed me.
Imagine if words were not approximations.


Who would answer them. Who would exhume
the you that hides, locked in you, like bone.


Who would claim it. Come, I say, when I
am lost. Come, sweet dog. And then he comes.




Is it any wonder the world’s on fire
with the vanitas portraits of skulls


and candles whose still and priceless light
belies them. All is vanity, they say,


and here we are, at a small museum
in the heart of a town whose name escapes me.


Each day I leap from my bones a little,
the way light leaps from a painted candle


into darkness, or a dog into the woods.
A skull is a lantern in a place like this.


When I think of the bones of the hand,
I see the puzzle it takes a painter to solve.


I see white, though I know they must be
black in there, so long as they are painting.




If you weigh a body before and after
its final breath, you are probably not


a member of the family. It gets lighter,
as if the missing life had volume, weight.


The lords of gravity are in us, and still
we know so little about them. My dog says,


A part of a thing cannot cause that thing,
and I look back at him in disbelief.


To think each cause must first touch a shadow
between things, between things with shadows


and those with none. Hunger touches jaw
touches bone touches those who turn to dogs


for solace. Long after the deer that leapt
from earth: bone that keeps leaping from the bone.




Here by the fire and crackle of our jaws,
I take comfort knowing companionship


begins in unanswered questions. Here,
side by side, in light of the open freezer.


Good dog, I say, when he excels at being
that, a dog, like a child before she knows


she is. Good dog, I hear my mother say,
now that she is gone, beyond the voice


of her own mother, but never the desire.
Good dog, says mother before mother


in an endless howl of mothers to the sea.
Bone fights bone to remain just that.


To make it what it is, hard, good in ways
hunger knows, before the jaw destroys it.




My dog takes his chisel to the thing
he carves the goodness from. Like a sculptor


who takes from rock the part that makes it
memorial. To make of loss an art,


imagine the space around the fullness,
and you are closer to the life lived and so


destroyed. I do not ask this of a dog:
seeing what he does not. If he is good,


the seeing dog is lantern to the blind,
those who trace with hands wings of the marble.


To see as sculptors see begins in blindness.
To hunger like a dog. Now and then bones


appear on graves, but mostly it is angels.
I do not ask for meat from an angel.




The angelic made of bone will tell you,
Angels are overrated. That is their calling,


to be the mother’s face above the cradle
long after the mother is gone. Tonight


the dogs of my neighbors lift their howls
into one music made of lonely hours.


A woman takes on the pallor of her sheets.
In time, as I remember, she disappears.


When I think of her, I am always leaving
out the essentials. I am hungry. Always.


I want to say that she is letting go
of something when she says my name in tears.


I want to say they measure me—her eyes—
my heart laid in a pan of the balance.




Then my hound laid his head on my leg
and sighed, and the words he might have said


left for the words he never could quite say.
The bone he was working over vanished


to a place in hiding, where earth was fresh.
Doubtless the shape the bone was in changed


in ways a dog remains the better judge.
Still bones will be bones. I imagine.


Our common grave is lit by the lonely
flashlight of those who lay their weight on ours.


The parts we tore away are turning into
blood. Good dog, I whisper, as if to say


good night to night. No. To all nights now.
And then the slow unearthing of the stars.