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Poetry / Ilse Pedler

'The Bone Museum’

Issue 2. June 21, 2021


Knucklebones thrown high,
                              caught on Roman pottery
Gods and commoners,
                             Homer on his Odyssey;
       – score a dog and you lose –
Dice, jackstraws, spillikins,
    – feel it in your bones –
their indentations and calluses,
futures cupped
                and rolled in sweating hands – bet on.                                                             
              talus, calcaneus, sesamoid
Buttons and beads, bobbins and hairpins,
tales of fortune or famine.
Spirits appeased
                  with flute and kangling,
hide stretched over domes of skulls,
               beat the drums,
Knick Knack Paddywhack,
 –hear it in your bones –
              fibula, tibia, femur
Questions on oracle bones,
futures of emperors divined by cracks
from heat and drilled holes,         
  – a bone to pick
              a bone of contention – 
Ground to powder.
renamed dragon bones,
            as victory toasts
                          from hollowed cups.
              clavicle, scapula, hyoid
Lotus feet,
toes broken and crushed sole-wards,
heel and ball forced together
                                a shattered arch,
soaked with herbs and bound,
decayed flesh disguised in embroidered shoes,
          – bind them tighter –
beauty measured in three- inch steps,
the sway of the highborn.
              cuboid, navicular, cuneiform
Stacked in catacombs and ossuarries
Clasped in gold, fragments of saints
                              worshipped on high altars,
sins counted on rosaries and malas
                       – our father forgive us our greed –  
            scratching out their dreams on whale bones,
inking in lines with soot or tobacco juice.
              ilium, ischium, acetabulum
Landslides of bones from pyres and gas chambers,
ashes swept in piles higher than a man,
      on fields and roads,
       in rivers,
skulls with their holes are the last to crumble
restless with their stories;
mist tastes bitter as it seeps in like smoke
                  across the years,
              occipital, frontal, vomer
In the Killing Fields,
    bones are
                  like leaves
                          of forbidden books
                                       beneath our feet.
After heavy rain,
fragments may be seen,
 –if found, visitors are asked to notify a member of staff –
Bones refuse to remain silent,
              jostle to the surface,
                          eager to relate their histories.
Genocides start as whispers;
                            – listen –
              malleus, incus, stapes

Ilse Pedler has had poems published previously in Magma, Stand, The Compass as well as several anthologies. She is the winner of the 2015 Mslexia Pamphlet Competition. Her pamphlet, The Dogs That Chase Bicycle Wheels was published by Seren in March 2016. She was long listed in the National Poetry Competition in 2018 and is the poet in residence at Sidmouth Folk Festival . She lives and works as a Veterinary Surgeon in Kendal, her first collection is due to be published by Seren this year.

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