As you may know I am writing a series of posts inspired by the 2016 Mslexia writers’ diary. Each post will focus on a body part. Today’s theme is Bone.
Oh yeah your skin and bones
to something beautiful
Beneath our clothes, our skin, our fat, our muscle, we are 3D jigsaws of bone wrapped protectively around some organs. Without these jigsaws, we would be masses of jelly sprawled out mostly motionless across the ground. Our organs would be easy prey. We wouldn’t last. Insults like “spineless” or “no backbone” conjure images of people unable to hold themselves up, unable to stand up for what they believe in. Strong bones are important not just literally but also metaphorically. In metaphor, just as skin should not be thin, bone should not be brittle, fragile, lacking or weak. Bone is what we are based on, so it had better be hardy.
Like our skin, our bones regenerate themselves. Roughly every 7 years, we effectively replace each bone. This fact surprised me on reading. Bone seems like something constant. When all else is gone, bones are the lasting part of us, the part that will lie in the earth undecaying for centuries. We find the bones of dinosaurs, extinct mammals and human beings. Bones survived the volcanic eruption at Pompeii. We learn from the bones we excavate.
Because bones are the part of us that survives burial, bones also teach us about the rituals associated with death at any given time. Bones show us where graves once lay, and the things alongside the bones (pottery, coins, jewellery) allow us to read into what meaning was associated with those graves. We see elephants mourn over the bones of their own and we understand that for them, as for us, death is imbued with meaning.
Despite this, bones are also linked inextricably with life. As they are constantly renewing, they require food and oxygen just as we do. They are a living part of us and when we die, though they do not dissolve, they stop regenerating. Bones arrested in time. This is what is so fascinating about bones. Their clues about deaths. Their ties to life. Their constant renewal contrasted with their longevity.
As I write these posts, I am finding that each body part, both in terms of real experience and in terms of metaphor, are ridden with contradictions. This is what has captured my attention.
The poem below (under construction) attempts to suture the deadness of bone with the goings-on of life. It really needs a revision (or seven) but, as they say, here are the bare bones of it. Haha.
We whittled away at the bones, each day,
to make our toys: sharp fighting sticks
and pens to scratch the earth
to show we’d been. Bone
created alibi, our signatures in dust
proved we must have walked
each patch of land. Older,
I once asked my sister
to forge my sign, so I could ride from town
to meet my love.
We took up knives of bone, worn blunt
from overuse, our names entwined
against a tree as old and wise as bone
(but softer, and prone to decay).
And she whittled me a little coin
to wear around my neck
because I couldn’t stay.