How to Become a Skeleton
“The bones will then be scrubbed with toothbrushes . . .”
Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker, April 10, 2017
(imo Christopher Gray)
So what’s left besides words? Words
that came out of mouths onto stone or papyrus,
lined paper page or a screen. Words
that escaped between an upper jaw and a lower,
where teeth that once bit like the winter sun
were brushed twice daily, maybe more,
teeth that crushed seeds, devoured fish, teeth
that sank into weeds and flesh.
But what else? Bones. To become a skeleton,
you leave your flesh to be flensed, your bones
to be exposed in their storytelling—a femur,
a rib, tibia, radius, even a fifth metatarsal
that broke once perhaps and now holds a screw
that will prove the tale about a ball kicked and scoring,
ball of leather tanned from a cow whose bones
have gone into raspberry gelatin.
This recycling—tongue, pancreas, blood and cartilage,
chaff, hoof, offal rendered—refeeds, as you will
with your words. But don’t forget the bones. Bones.
Bones being brushed like teeth, bones being returned to,
reticulated into, the human form. Bones that jingle,
bones that flop and fold up into a box or hang
in a closet until students and teacher alike
abandon the frog and examine the men and women
they will be when the fires are out.
© 2017 Anne Harding Woodworth
Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of five books of poetry, the most recent being Unattached Male from Poetry Salzburg. An excerpt from her chapbook, The Last Gun, won the 2015-2016 COG Poetry Award, judged by A. Van Jordan and animated by students at Cogswell College (www.cogzine.com/watch). Harding Woodworth lives in Washington, D.C., where she is co-chair of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library.