Skeletons

  • I wrote this over the week-end, and not altogether for Halloween. I’m not sure whether to call this done or a rough draft. I’ve taken some liberties with the meter and experimented with internal rhyme.

My skeleton and I go out for walks,
Although he mostly likes it in the closet.
I’ll hear him tap, tap, tapping
His skull for some conundrum; there are many.
It’s no small thing for any skeleton
To think. His skull’s a ruined house, its clasps
And door-locks long since gone.
························He teeters, grasps —
Ideas are fretful winds. They blow into
And through his vacant stare, emptily tumble;
Then out the way they came. He stands perplexed,
A sharp forefinger’s bone upraised, his jaw
Aslant — he’d almost had it.
························So it goes
It’s times like these that we go out. I keep
Our walks discreet though every now and then
We’ll meet a passerby (my skeleton
And theirs will pay no mind). We pass a cape,
A woodpile covered by a sheet of tin,
And laundry—skirts and sheets. They billow ghostlike
Above the ruined dooryard.
························He walks
With fingers laced behind his spine; looks
A little this way and a little that.
The dust recoils between his toes and smolders
At his heels. There’s nowhere he’ll stop
Unless it’s where there used to be a house,
Midfield, where now there’s just foundation stone.
He’ll gaze with longing and he’ll heave
And here and there a leaf snagged in his ribs
(And bones withal) will tumble down. They’ll scrape
And skitter through and in between until
He stands in them.
··················He lingers. He’d share
A secret he kept in life; that now,
In death, keeps him. I never asked and yet
One day he pointed where the house had been
With such a trembling grief
He might have been as likely reaching to touch
Another’s unseen fingertip.
························A gust

Took from the cellarhole a crackling smoke
Of leaves.·The sheets of the house nearby
Were chased into the field’s conflagration
Of nettle, thorn and thistle. Too late
They fled but couldn’t flee. The sudden gust
Confounded them — the mother and her child!
I saw them both. How like a mother’s hand,
And like the daughter’s where the small sheet clung
If only by a clothespin to the larger;
As if they’d change what was already done,
As if this time they’d reach his outstretched sorrow;
Undo, a hundred years gone by, the crows
That rise like startled ashes from the ruins—
Their screams dispersed into the neighboring hemlock
And birch.
······His lowering finger curls beneath
Their rake of knuckles. The sheets lay motionless
Under a settling soot of leaves and wildflowers charred
By frost.
······He never afterward did more
Than linger. I’ll not swear that what I saw
Was true, but then I can’t be sure that I
Won’t too, for guilt, regret, or for some sorrow
Dwell in your home.
······You’ll know me, if I’m there

My bones, a few remains, shelved in a poem;
Willing, if just for company, to share
Your walk and should you need me to — your pain.

 

Skeletons
November 3 2014 • by me, Patrick Gillespie

15 responses

  1. Real good stuff Patrick. The whole idea of skeletons reminds me of a man standing and looking out at the ocean and thinking back to what he thought he would become and as the tide ebbs, where he ended up becomes clear. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Tim. Your analogy reminds me of the famous sonnet by Spenser:

      One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
      But came the waves and washèd it away:
      Again I wrote it with a second hand,
      But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
      Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay,
      A mortal thing so to immortalize;
      For I myself shall like to this decay,
      And eke my name be wipèd out likewise.
      Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise
      To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
      My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
      And in the heavens write your glorious name:
      Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
      Our love shall live, and later life renew.

      I copied this from Poetry Foundation, removed some of their arbitrary punctuation and added l’accent grave to a couple words (Elizabethans wouldn’t have needed) to make sense of the meter. :-)

  2. The most spontaneous poem I’ve seen of yours. I’m not a fan of gothic themes, but the language moved me along nicely. Playfully cryptic without the suspect inference of DTs or opium withdrawal I endure in Poe’s stuff. The last line winks a little too obviously though. I would tweak it—something like—“You’ll know me by what you read/ If poem become belief/ Or should.” If you’re in a mood to cast your pearls before swine I’d email it to Poetry Magazine. It’s certainly as good or better than anything else I’ve seen there the last decade.

    • Thanks Cliff. I’ll reconsider the last line. I admit I’m not entirely satisfied with it and your reaction gives me some impetus.

      As for the tone — I didn’t want it to feel fantastical, but more like something perfectly normal (which it is). We all have skeletons, as it were, if not so personified. I’m glad you liked that part of it.

    • And as for “Poetry” Magazine. They would reject it and only end up pissing me off — but only after having made me wait three months (minimum). I detest submitting anything for approval and don’t handle rejection well — in fact, no, not at all, (esp. when it comes to my poems). My pissèd-off’èdness goes way beyond anything rational or reasonable so I just don’t do it. That’s the downside. The upside is that my indefensible and self-defeating character flaw is what led to this blog. :-)

  3. I’ve submitted to PM one time—but I have to say not my best poems. More like a dry run to see how it operates. You have to feel for the hundreds of poets for whom PM’s approval is an issue of survival, which it is not for me. I don’t work in academia and in any case too many of my poems are intrusively polemical—enough so to dismiss the two or three that are almost perfect on grounds of alienation of humanity. Nevertheless, there is always the possibility that The Academy might warm up to me should I stick my head in a gas oven and offer up myself as indelible object lesson on how not to write poetry. Well, it’s election night, and yet again I just can’t help myself:

    bill maher unchained

    does what billy knows
    depend
    on you and me?
    could he think it
    in a world
    of just his own?
    if we voted with our feet
    a separate be
    that left
    the thoughts of billy
    all alone…
    the cannibal fires
    encroaching
    night by night…
    would that be enough?
    or would he know as he had known with us
    or say,
    cannibals, you should know it just as well as they
    proclaiming proudly, shackled,
    as they cooked:
    brothers, make of me
    if you please
    a meal.
    but heed this final warning
    well and good.
    white men–
    where’er republican—
    I declare
    the eternal cause
    of living hell!

    • The elliptical syntax reminds me of Dickinson. (Sometimes her syntax is just plain labyrinthine.) I used to watch more of Bill Maher, but it’s ever the same dog and pony show with him — sort of Rush Limbaugh’s alter ego.

  4. RE: the new concluding three lines of your poem

    You’ll know me, if I’m there—
    My bones, a few remains, shelved in a poem;
    Willing, if just for company, to share
    Your walk and should you need me to — your pain.

    To me, these new lines and images clash with the ironic stance that I inferred by the strength of the language in the poem overall. I may have a bias here, but I prefer a philosophical wink consistent with the “voice” that has brought us here—that of a normal, literate, even lighthearted sort of protagonist open to fancy. These lines risk a Plathian construal—i.e. “I thought even the bones would do”—or Poe on a bad day—a schizo-affective or hysterical summing up, despite the touch of empathy, that clashes with the total quality of the poem. “the feel your pain” thing is probably also a little clichéd or pat now thanks to Bill Clinton. Your original lines were probably more on the right track, toward something that presents the reader the option of epistemological skepticism (or playfulness), a sign of maturity and executive function, consistent with the overall voice of the poem. Moreover, this latest ending is so serious about itself modern readers might be tempted to escape it, likely comically:

    You’ll know me, if I’m there—
    My bones, a few remains, shelved in a poem;
    Willing, if just for company, to share
    Your walk and should you need me to — my boner.

    • That’s a hard critique. I’m gonna’ stick with these lines though. My difficulty with the first draft was with their abruptness. These lines tie the whole together in a way that the first draft didn’t.

      I’ve been thinking about writing a sonnet next. It’s been a while but the poetry may be returning. Either that or my death is imminent. That’s usually the way these things go.

  5. You may be right. I gave it a few hours and read it again with the entire poem and it sounded pretty good. I had read only the last four lines initially and those after installing two toilets and a bathtub. Comparing you to Plath was a real misfire, and it is more affable than Poe. Suddenly I see Beddoes and John Clare, both working for the Peace Corps. But then not. The poem finally eludes influence or place, and that might be a good sign.

    • Thanks Cliff. I didn’t mind your first comment, esp. because I requested it. I wasn’t quite seeing the Plath connection either, but then I’m not all that familiar with her poetry (though I’ve read her). But John Clare… You really are well read. Clare’s not the kind of poet one just goes stumbling across. You have to look for him.

  6. Actually, I do not consider myself well read at all in literature, particularly compared to you. Believe it or not, I almost flunked English in the 7th grade. And I went to college with people who could gobble up a book(s) in one night that I might kick around for a year or two. I probably would have flunked out of college but for an unlikely capacity to grind out innumerable political science term papers of reasonable coherence. My personal best was 60 pages, 140 footnotes in less than a week—worthy of a “B” no less from a professor dubbed “Flunkin’ Fred.” How I did that I cannot fathom today.

    Regarding Ruxul, insulation is not the issue here in NC/VA that it would be in snowy Vermont. No, given the lower median income, the main consideration is functionally per price. And I am the master of the cheap, reliable fix.

  7. Uppervermont wrote: “By the way, do you insulate the bathtubs when you install them? I’ve taken to stuffing Roxsul around them — not to get off topic or anything.”

    I was reading up on Roxsul, which is not stocked as often down here. But sounds right for places like Vermont with sub-zero days. The worst thing I’ve seen with tubs (besides how the slowest leak can take out a floor) is where the plumbing chase to the tub allowed rodents to infiltrate. In one case rats had pulled whole burlap tow sacks under a tub to make probably the filthiest nest I’ve ever removed. In either event (a leak or rats) it seems insulating under the tub would aggravate that contingency. For that reason, I recommend insulating only underneath the floor of the bathroom or tub area and definitely screening and “Great Stuffing” the chase holes. A coat of white paint underneath the tub also makes a nice black widow spider repellant. The only problem now is you owe me $150 for divulging trade secrets.

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