Poetry Review: Bone Song by Bunny Goodjohn

Hey, where have I been? Mainly, raising monarch caterpillars in my dining room and using them as an excuse not to write any poetry at all.

While doing all of that … I also had the great pleasure of reading Bone Song, by a poet friend of mine, Bunny Goodjohn. Bone Song received the 2014 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry and was published earlier this year by Briery Creek Press (Longwood University).

Bone Song is intensely personal and elegantly wrought. It exposes the aches and pains and hurts of being human — and of being this particular human — without a moment of self-pity or self-absorption. It is honest and tough, whether the subject is a childhood sexual assault, a divorce, or a group meeting at a women’s prison after a DUI, but also deeply compassionate and restrained (in the best sense of the word). This is confessional poetry without the slightest sense of competitiveness or one-upsmanship in suffering. Instead, Goodjohn invites us to contemplate our own scars — as indicators of our past pain, but also our ongoing survival — by revealing hers with a wry wisdom and deeply earned grace.


From “Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility”:

The rec room hums and we’re all lost
to joining drunken dots of our own
blacked-out biographies. We’re haunted
by mouths that have always swarmed with bees,
homesick for a time when we were too blessed
— or young — to know the treachery of swallowing.


Pie Bear

If a bear walked into a pie shop,
I would be uncomfortable with this outcome.
I have never seen a bear in the wild, though I know
they exist. They are something like sharks:
unseen shadows moving through my visual field,
easily seen by helicopter or hobbyist biplane
but not here where I paddle and muddle,
quite often without the results I’m looking for,
but every so often as fruitful as pie.


When We Run Out of Safe Things to Say

As a last resort, there’s the rain
bringing us its imminence as
something to talk about—
will it, won’t it, and when?
Like an ancient game of checkers
on a forgotten front porch
that perhaps never existed,
and maybe we have it all sideways,
should not be so quick to move to
our last resort, as if we don’t have
anything else to talk about,
which we certainly do. But
as a last resort, there’s the rain,
and I think it’s coming any time now,
and when it does, I’m certain
it will really come down.


The Snapping Turtle on the Sidewalk

It remembers a time before roads,
an antediluvian time when you were
not here, not even a memory or
a scent of you on the water. It knows
you are here now, and roads, cars,
armored things ready to crush
armored things with hooked beaks
and spiked tails. It remembers, too,
that the swamp on the other side
might hold ducklings, frogs, some
soft, unarmored creatures that
make it a worthwhile venture,
this slow crossing in a fast world.


Lucifer, Our Lord of Acronyms

Yeah, that’s me, and half the time,
I’m not laughing out loud. You people
just aren’t all that funny. You know
what’s funny? When you get here
and you think you’re coming to
some exclusive club, and you’re
looking around for all your friends
and you’re texting all your friends
who aren’t here (yet), and then
that’s when I turn up the flames
and the torture machines, and
you drop your phones in my
brimstone pit and I just laugh
and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Swag. Satan’s wishes are granted.
Are they really? Well, yes—I find
that most days generally go in a
predictable direction, in my favor.
Beelzebub rules below. That’s me,
too, and I think you’ll find I’m a
pretty chill guy, once you develop
a taste for my pitchfork. But
you may as well know, if you
don’t already: Once you’re here,
wherever it is you came from,
you’re never gonna BRB.

Does LOL Stand for Lucifer Our Lord?


The Pillsbury Doughboy, Having Shot an Old Lady

I said
and I shot that old lady
in the head,
right on
her gray hair.
I have no hair, only
this chef’s hat,
flat blue eyes
blob hands, feet
stupid neckerchief
a person made of dough
Think of it: I am not
a man. I am not
a biscuit. In the seam
between, I become
angrier until I swell,
burst, in a hot car
in Baltimore City
or some other city.
Maybe your city.

Biscuits for Brains