What does a poet look like? I have this image–Robert Frost, whether man or woman. Or Maya Angelou whether man or woman. There’s something about poets that bring forth images of the “not usual” if not just unusual. Then we come to Maggie Smith, not the actress but the poetess. Not one bit does she look like my images. I didn’t want to go stalking the net for her “specs” like one finds for Miss America contestants lest I get arrested or my wife peek over my shoulder, so I don’t even know how tall she is. All I saw was a head shot. Maggie Smith looks like a poster-adult for mid-western wholesomeness.
In her 30’s the mother of two, she is by anyone’s account a pretty lady with short hair swept to the side and blue eyes that pierce the photo. She looks like she would be writing promo lines for Kellogg’s cereal. Looking at her photo you’d never know that darkness lay behind those eyes, or at least was capable of forming behind them. Several days after the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando her poem “Good Bones” was published and went viral. It was dark indeed.
“Good Bones” should be read. And thought about. It describes the writer’s view of the world and the mental hoops a mother goes through trying to present to her children a good place that often isn’t. How do you tell children that bad things do happen to good people and sometimes for no reason at all, that there are people who lie and cheat and steal, that there is danger and one can’t always know where it is or what form it will take or be protected from it–even by one’s parents?
Is that the world a parent wants to open a child’s eye’s too? Of course not! As I write this, I look out my south Florida window. It rained last night. Today the sun is bright, the air crystal clean, a newly planted tree I can’t remember the name of is flowering, it’s young boughs blowing in a light breeze, and my dog is at my feet breathing the deep sleep of “well he’s not doing anything so neither am I sleep” of good family dogs. All seems well with the world; that’s the world we want for our children.
But not two hours from here the Pulse stopped beating.
So Ms. Smith decides to employ a bit of image deception so regularly heard from realtors, especially if one is an HGTV fan. She’s describes in easy to understand terms the equivalent of the realtors’ refrain, “Forget what you are looking at. The house has good bones. You can make it your own.” Sometimes. As we know from HGTV when one begins the pairing back process to get to the bones lots of ugly things can be found. And that is the truism that every child learns at some point in life or another.
All of this brings me to this February in the United States of America. We are now allowed to dump toxic coal waste into rivers;’couldn’t do that last month. We will build pipelines that with one accident will further and possibly irreparably break a long and oft-sullied treaty this government has with one of its first nation’s peoples; couldn’t do that digging last month. We’re spitting venom at each other over where children of which persuasion can relieve themselves in what bathroom during school; resolved that one a few months ago, or so we thought. And we are injecting into the language something called “alternate facts,” which I believe are also known as lies. This is the world embracing my 2.2 grandchildren who have another problem. They are Jewish in a country that again is finding that to be alien. Lack of change apparently is the constant.
And yet Spring-like things happen even during winters of discontent. Some one hung a banner under the chin of Lady Liberty at Ellis Island that said, “Refugees Welcome!” Without the meaning of such a sign throughout our history, this might be a pretty empty country that never reached the potential it still is reaching for.
Yet with it all, what we do have is good bones. Those bones are the skeleton we call the Constitution of the United States of America. That Constitution has allowed for me to sit where I am, seeing what I described, not having to worry about guns, or bombs, or even “alternate facts. doing me, or my family, harm.”
We can only hope that as we struggle with the decisions that go into what makes or remakes America, we don’t break too many of those bones because as the old song tells us, the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone–too many breaks and goodbye skeleton, hello pile of bones.