“The Bone-Joiner” by Sandi Leibowitz
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The music stirs
as this rib slips into its slot of spine,
a perfect fit.
Eyes closed, I work the puzzle
of the skeleton; with opened eyes
I’d guess and flub, each marring
jar the humming out of tune.
They sing, the bones, when they find
duet at first when part meets part
and then the swell of chorus
as my work grows whole.
Watching, she waits, the widow,
wide-eyed now and hollow as straw,
without the strength she used to row the skiff
that brought him to me.
The bargain struck,
she’d cradled the corpse on her lap like a babe,
gave herself up to weeping
till I pried her fingers loose
and took him to the fire.
She would not heed me then,
pretended maybe it was only stew
a-bubbling in the pot.
Ah no, the seekers cringe from dissolution,
no matter how well they know
my art requires destroying
before creation can begin.
But now, as I join, she observes,
listening to the clack of bone on bone,
like the tune of knitting needles.
Does she recognize this empty cage
that held the heart she prized?
Do these large fingers, unringed and unfleshed,
recall the ones that laced with hers?
Soon I’ll pour the brew
to clothe these bones again.
eyes flutter open,
lips smile to find her there.
Between the seeker and beloved
the air will hum,
a new harmony.
Is that what love is, then,
deep in the bone,
a music that fits one to another?
I know of bones
but I don’t know this.
When I breathe my last,
no one will care to bring me back,
fit me together rib by rib,
and I cannot fathom loving anyone
enough to wake them.
Perhaps all joiners own this flaw,
so we may go brisk about our business
with a surgeon’s ease.
But always the seekers come to me,
children sometimes, mothers often,
lovers most of all, they come as she has come,
bones aching with soul’s need.
In an hour or two, he’ll gasp and gulp.
She’ll clasp him round the waist
and rush him to the skiff,
hurrying from my dreadful isle
I’ll never know the story after,
what dreams may grasp him
in the dead of night,
whether someday she’ll grow to loathe
that cold flesh in her arms,
or if — the tale I tell myself
through all the silent nights —
they’ll learn an even truer love and kinder.
Long before sun sets, the sea
will wash their footsteps
from my shore
and I will only hear the hum of surf,
wind rattling the dead trees’ bones.
|Sandi Leibowitz is a school librarian, classical singer, and writer of speculative fiction and poetry. Her work appears in Liminality, Stone Telling, Inkscrawl, Mythic Delirium, Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 5 and other magazines and anthologies. A native New Yorker, she has ridden in a hot-air balloon over the Rio Grande, traveled in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella, and visited with Arthur in Avalon.|