Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Bone Map

Bone Map

by Sara Eliza Johnson, Martha Collins (Introduction)

See All Formats & Editions

Sara Eliza Johnson's stunning, deeply visceral first collection, Bone Map (2013 National Poetry Series Winner), pulls shards of tenderness from a world on the verge of collapse, where violence and terror infuse the body, the landscape, and dreams: a handful of blackberries offered from bloodied arms, bee stings likened to pulses of sunlight, a honeycomb


Sara Eliza Johnson's stunning, deeply visceral first collection, Bone Map (2013 National Poetry Series Winner), pulls shards of tenderness from a world on the verge of collapse, where violence and terror infuse the body, the landscape, and dreams: a handful of blackberries offered from bloodied arms, bee stings likened to pulses of sunlight, a honeycomb of marrow exposed. “All moments will shine if you cut them open. / Will glisten like entrails in the sun.” With figurative language that makes long, associative leaps, and with metaphors and images that continually resurrect themselves across poems, the collection builds and transforms its world through a locomotive echo—a regenerative force—that comes to parallel the psychic quest for redemption that unfolds in its second half. The result is a deeply affecting composition that will establish the already decorated young author as an important and vital new voice in American poetry.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Johnson's National Poetry Series-winning debut collection speaks to us "from a country near ruin,// from a forest lit only by rifle fire," where "the moon// ... rolls through you/ like a great city before a war." These poems are missives from landscapes so isolated they approximate post-apocalypse: ice fields, ravaged woods, the primordial sea. Johnson's landscapes are often empty, save for the single, clear-voiced speaker and, on occasion, wild animals such as the stag that catches "its antlers on the light's belly,/ spilling purple viscera/ everywhere." Surreal and fable-like, this is not a topical collection, and yet these poems are urgently aware that they were born of and into a world in which "Wind deepens the wounds// I leave with my boots. Nothing// is well." When Johnson's "war drones and swarms," her verbs double as nouns. This concern with the loss of integrity endured in a time of war marks a work that is equally preoccupied with the figuring of personal loss: "Your hands fell through me—/ two lights I almost broke// in half wanting." Johnson's poems, like light, clarify even as they pierce: "Though they cannot be deciphered,/ cannot become lighter,/ all moments will shine/ if you cut them open,/ glisten like entrails in the sun." (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"The territory mapped in this gorgeous book—first a forest with animals, then water and winter ice—is wracked by violence, war, and loss, with the bones and viscera of the living and dead laying claim to our attention. But it is also a world of dream and vision: 'All moments will shine if you cut them open,' the poet says. And though the process is often brutal, as war edges toward apocalypse, then quiets to elegiac ache, a fierce beauty emerges, line by line, image by image, transforming darkness as well as light."
—Martha Collins

"Bone Map attunes us not to cosmic harmonies that remove us from the world in which we live, but to those violent facts that thrill easier orders back into the difficulty of actual existence. She asks us to enter, not to contemplate; asks us to bite, not to savor. Returning again and again to brute nodes of meaning—owl, deer, berry, blood, wound—Johnson guides us back into those primary symbols where the husk of human intelligence breaks apart, leaving only that shining germ that admits to basic needs: hunger, meaning, love, want. Poems of dark wonder result, calling back into the surface complexity of our daily lives those deeper realities of folklore and fairy tale, and the child’s astonished realization, that she is—as we are—both predator and prey. And so I hear the prayer of these poems. Not deliverance. But entrance—into the dark woods, into the deep loam, where the berry bleeds, the owl calls, and the wolf still roams."
—Dan Beachy-Quick

"Here, the moon can 'roll through you like a great city before a war,' this place where a creature newly born 'makes a thimbleful of sound,' where 'men do not know yet what their hands will be made to do to other men.' So begins the unnerving, seemingly speechless days and nights of Sara Eliza Johnson’s fierce and tender Bone Map—a collection that continues on, to haunt and reorder human experience. A much earlier world lives in these poems, and our own sad time as well. Private and oddly not private at all in her mythic feel and often through brilliant riffs of metaphor, Johnson is careful about the deep silence in things, and her direction. Which is to say, this book is a map. Carry it with you. Then open it. Let it advise and scare you again and again."
—Marianne Boruch

“Sara Eliza Johnson’s Bone Map charts a dreamscape that mixes elements of folk tale into mysterious itineraries through the commingled fringes of the world of sacramental animals and a frail humankind. She writes with the sere precision reminiscent of Alaskan poet John Haines, yet with a delicacy of language and magical thought all her own. The logic in her narratives is that of dreaming—primitive, chthonic, and subtly terrifying. Hers is a cunning and dangerous poetry, deceptive in its apparent innocence, not written against the dark backdrop of identifiable horrors, but drawn from a well of the beautiful and the macabre, a crystal cup of roses dipped in the tongueblood of wolves. In all, there is the mystic vision of wintry things first seen at the cusp of spring, not yet sorted into any commonplace order. For Johnson is a builder of miraculous worlds and not their devourer. O magnum misterium!
—Garrett Hongo

Library Journal
In this heartfelt, gracefully written collection, winner of the National Poetry series, Johnson makes telling connections while showing us a world inevitably underlain by hurt: a stag rubbing its antlers against a tree to strip them of their velvet also strips the tree of bark, as "someplace in the world// a bomb strips away someone's skin." But in her assured way, Johnson helps us stumble upon truth: "This must be what love is:// a pain so radiant/ it cuts through all others."

Product Details

Milkweed Editions
Publication date:
National Poetry Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Bone Map


By Sara Eliza Johnson

Milkweed Editions

Copyright © 2014 Sara Eliza Johnson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57131-469-7



    In the forest, the owl releases a boneless cry.
    I know the names of things here
    and I can hold them.
    I hold your hand:
    a matryoshka opening deeper
    until I can hear your bones
    singing into mine,
    and feel the moon

    as it rolls through you
    like a great city before a war
    where it has been night for so long
    that everyone sees
    with their hands,
    and then somewhere in the city
    a newborn animal
    shakes the dust off itself

    and stands, makes
    a thimbleful of sound,
    and a boy standing in the square
    turns toward it,
    and his father, not knowing
    what his hands will be made to do
    to other men,
    places a hand on his head.

    Deer Rub

    Deep in the forest, where no one has gone,
    where rain bloats the black moss and mud,

    a deer is rubbing its forelock and antlers
    against a tree. The velvet that covers the antlers

    unwinds into strips, like bandages.
    The rain scratches at the deer's coat

    as if trying to get inside, washes the antlers
    of blood, like a curator cleaning the bones

    of a saint in the crypt beneath a church
    at the end of a century, when the people

    have begun to think of the bodies
    as truly dead and unraiseable,

    when children have begun to carry knives
    in their pockets. Once the last shred

    of velvet falls to the ground, the deer
    bends to eat it, nearly finished with ritual

    and altar, the tree's side stripped of bark
    while someplace in the world

    a bomb strips away someone's skin.
    The deer's mouth is stained with berries

    of its own blood. Then, the deer is gone
    and the tree left opened, the rain darkening

    red against the hole in the sapwood.
    The storm grows louder and louder

    like a fear. The deer will shed
    its velvet four more times before dying

    of disease; the tree will grow its bark
    again. Each atom in each cell will remember

    the body it had made in this place, this time,
    long after the rain flushes the river

    to flood, long after this morning
    when the country wakes to another war,

    when two people wake in a house
    and do not touch each other.


    It begins on the brightest
    afternoon, my body

    held in a corona

    I can taste the sugar
    and the heat of.

    At the edge of the valley
    wild hyacinths,

    violet ones, scythe

    through the shadows,
    through my eye.

    When I reach the hive
    the bees cluster

    on my veil like molecules

    magnified, a code
    to the core of things.

    When I lift a comb

    one bee stings my wrist,
    then another,

    the venom a note,

    a pulse of light
    that rises into a song:

    a tower of spikes

    or a swaying stalk
    of purpling

    blossoms. This must be
    what love is:

    a pain so radiant
    it cuts through all others.

    As the sickle Moon Guts a cloud

    a sickness grows inside the moonlight,
    turns under the mud in the corral
    the horse churns to fever.
    A boy stands at the fence
    and whistles to the horse, clicks
    his tongue, stamps his foot.
    The horse will not come.
    And when it does,
     when the boy offers it hay,
    it bites the center of his palm
    which purples with blood.
    In twenty years, the boy
    will place a shotgun in his mouth
     while his child sleeps.
    Though they cannot be deciphered,
    cannot become lighter,
    all moments will shine
    if you cut them open,
    glisten like entrails in the sun.
     The fever grows deeper
    into itself, tender-rooted flowers
    inside the belly of the horse,
    inside the eye of the boy
    who again tries to feed it the hay,
    gently cups its mouth.


    Lost in the forest one night, we find the body
    of a wolf, its throat torn open,
    the wound a cupful of rippling

    black milk, where maggots curl star-white
    in their glistening darkness.
    The eyes hum with flies, which drone a joy

    in the bones, the brain, wander
    into the labyrinth through the tongue,
    still hanging out in half-howl.

    We keep walking, holding out our hands
    to feel our way through the dark
    as if we could touch as it touches,

    know it as it knows the stars
    that float in the vacuum of its voice,
    that grow brighter and louder

    until it unsays them, takes them
    back. I know first there was light
    to give the void a shape. I know

    what has no beginning cannot end.
    I can hardly see your face out here
    but I can hear you breathing.

    Your voice opens and says
    I think the path is this way,
    floats out, crosses to me

    in a little cloud-boat and is gone—
    Keep talking. How did the story go?
    How dark it was inside the wolf,

    which had begun as a clump
    of darkness inside another wolf.
    Then the child climbed out its belly

    shining, without a name—
    with only a red cap by which to call her
    and the animal guts in her hands.


Excerpted from Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson. Copyright © 2014 Sara Eliza Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

National Poetry Series and Rona Jaffe Award winner Sara Eliza Johnson has published poems in Boston Review and the New England Review, among many others publications. She is the Vice Presidential Fellow in creative writing at the University of Utah. She lives in Salt Lake City.

Martha Collins is the author of six collections of poetry and three books of co-translations from the Vietnamese. She founded the Creative Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston and for ten years served as the Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College. Currently editor-at-large for FIELD and an editor for Oberlin College Press, she lives in Cambridge, MA.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews