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 echoa regenerative forcethat 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.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
By Sara Eliza Johnson
Milkweed EditionsCopyright © 2014 Sara Eliza Johnson
All rights reserved.
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.
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
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,
the venom a note,
a pulse of light
that rises into a song:
a tower of spikes
or a swaying stalk
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.
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Table of Contents
As the Sickle Moon Guts a Cloud
Lesson, During the War
View From the Fence, On Which I Sit and Dangle My Legs
The Last Przewalski’s Horse
The Dream of Water
Parable of the Flood
When There Is Burning Instead
Elegy Surrounded by Water
Archipelago: Island of Sheep
Archipelago: The Paradise of Birds
Archipelago: Tabula Rasa
Archipelago: The Soporific Well
Instructions for Wintering on the Ice Field
Letter from the Ice Field, October
Letter from the Ice Field, December
Letter from the Ice Field, January
Letter from the Ice Field, March
Archipelago: Ultima Thule
The City Where Men are Mended
Let Us Consider Where We Might Have A Home
How the World Was Made