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Short poem

Phyllis Gotlieb (1926-)

A Discourse

              1the skeleton's the most articu-
              2late thing there is except
              3about Who made him. It's not
              4graveyards he rattles in but
              5you and me; skeletons
              6chase butterflies and do the
              7Monster Mash in the dark infra-
              8redroom of the flesh

              9                                    starting
            10from the grounded arches of
            11Man's first pedestal the
            12Tarsals and Phalanges bones
            13baby needs shoes for, not
            14the ones that get them,
            15keystones for

            16                         legs of
            17concern to dashers and prancers
            18stylers and milers fencers fandancers
            19romancers advancers
            20and retreaters
            21                        unsinewed a collection
            22of bones named after
            23skillets and safety pins

            24                                        the Femur
            25the skeleton's oaktree, in the old
            26soon broken least mended
            27has little to recommend it
            28in a poem except in the thunderclaptrap
            29of one lowly notch called the Intercondylar
            30and one lordly knob called the Greater Trochanter

            31while Pelvis itself ugly needs flesh
            32to notify it yet a crown of bones
            33in the woman the royal
            34colander drains
            35life from the sea
            36waters of the uterine cavern

            38the tailbone, Coccyx well
            39named after the cuckoo
            40connects with old jokes of banana
            41peels but the Pelvis
            42attaches that column of latin
            43the spine, at the Sacrum

            44in form
            45eschew connotations of
            46ramrod or spinelessness, choose
            47for symbol the integral,
            48S- shaped, both practical and pleasing; here are
            49integers stacked like
            50lecture chairs but cushioned in use
            51always; muscles may atrophy but these
            52let heads held high
            53glare each other in the eye
            54and swear

            55rising out of lumbago country and its young
            56ambassador absorbine junior
            57through thorax the Dorsals
            58seem to belong to dolphins
            59rather than the ribcage
            60called cavity crammed with vitals

            61the seven bars of the neck
            62noted for the top two that help
            63you nod or shake
            64so superbly lubricated only
            65the heart goes creak

            66the Hyoid hangs out
            67in this district, a bone
            68without visible means of support
            69silent and anonymous in
            70the mugbook of the anatomist

            71but the arms have apparatus!
            72clefshaped Clavicle
            73doubles the spine's integral
            74over the stave of the Ribs most
            75graceful of all body
            76spans from Sternum to Scapula a
            77flat plate and the base of wings in angels
            78armsocket in Mankind;

            79the humerus: enough said;

            80Radius and Ulna are staff and support
            81for that fan that pinwheel that unbeached
            82starfish the hand: I think of arms raised
            83lotus columns of Egypt
            84buttressed by shouldermuscle
            85and finally fingers touching tips
            86over the Skull, full
            87circle from the Phalanges we began with

            88the Skull's the pontine
            89arch of the pontifex homely
            90to me, the only one I met
            91in person, as a child
            92                                    my medschool
            93cousin used a sawed-off
            94skulltop for ashtray I thought
            95the flakes inside were dried remains
            96of brains, bonepink shocked me reading
            97so much of desert alkali but knew
            98the concave brainshape volutes cup
            99cortex and arteriole

          100                                  when
          101you put your lefthand
          102fingers into the inter-
          103stices of your right is how
          104the Frontal fits the Parietals
          105in the noble Cranium the base
          106doesn't look that neat
          107but none the less suffices

          108                                           the
          109Ethmoid takes the weight
          110of the great oracle with its flutes and coils
          111Temporals remind us
          112how bound to time we are Zygomatics
          113give children those apple
          115                leave Sphenoid
          116Conchae, Palatines all fragile none
          117termed ephemeral for

          118Stapes, Malleus, Incus
          119the Auditory Ossicles a
          120tone poem of their own tell you
          121what goes bump in the night, usually
          122the kid falling out of bed on his

          124from here the Foramen Magnum opens the door
          125from the brain to the neural telegraph
          126lines strung along the vascular
          127tree in lands I have no visa for

          128balled in a burlap of triple
          129membranes the rooty
          130brain's a thing contained and only
          131container of everything best left
          132cased under the lock and key of its senses

          133bridge span arch imply
          135              in the complex I
          136admire most the Foramina piercing
          137bone where marrow hatching phagocytes knock on the wall
          138arcades where nerve and vein pass through
          140and begin to define the flesh

          141the spirit's limits have their arbiters
          142but I know where the devil


2] articu-/late: characterized by segments linked by movable joints; talkative.

7] Monster Mash: a big song hit in 1962 by the singer Bobby "Boris" Pickett and his back-up singers the Cryptkickers. The son of a movie theatre owner, like Gotlieb, Pickett got his nickname doing impressions of the actor Boris Karloff, who played the monster in Frankenstein.

12] Tarsals: bones connecting the foot to the leg. Phalanges: the digital (toe) bones.

24] Femur: upper leg bone connecting to the thigh and so termed also the thighbone.

29] The intercondylar notch of the femur appears between the condyles (the knobs made by knuckle joints) at the bone's distal (lower) end and houses the cruciate ligaments.

30] The larger of two prominences, at the proximal (upper) end of the femur, that serve as places for attaching muscles and ligaments.

31] basin-like structure of different bones linking the backbone to the femurs.

38] coccyx: tailbone, the lowest, fused four-or-so vertebrae of the backbone that guard the guts.

43] Sacrum: five fused vertebrae that fix the spine to the pelvic girdle.

48] Originally a long s, meaning summa, Latin for `sum.'

51] atrophy: shrink, weaken.

55] lumbago: muscular rheumatism of the lower vertebrae of the backbone, just above the sacrum.

56] absorbine junior: a fluid linament that eases or eliminates arthritic pain.

57] thorax: chest area between the neck and the abdomen. the Dorsals: back surfaces of the body.

61] cervical vertebrae: the uppermost seven vertebrae, the atlas (which bears the weight of the skull), the axis (which enbales the atlas to pivot and so the skull to turn), and the five lower segments, named only by their number, from 1 to 5.

66] hyoid: ligaments attach this to the temporal bone (which containd the inner ear) and anchor the tongue.

72] clavicle: each clavicle or collarbone, found at the front of the shoulders, attaches to the sternum (the frontal, mid-chest vertical bone) and a lateral triangular shoulder blade or scapula.

79] humerus: upper arm, attached to the shoulder blade, and linked to the lower arm, which comprises two longish slender bones, the ulna (on the little finger side of the forearm) and the radius (on the thumb side of the forearm), to which is attached the wrist.

88] bridge-like.

89] `bridge-maker,' one of the council of priests in early Rome.

97] alkali: soluble salts including potassium and sodium carbonate.

98] concave: rounded like the inside of a bowl.

99] cortex: outer gray layer of the brain's cerebrum and cerebellum. arteriole: the twig-like end of an artery that flows into capillaries or very small blood vessels.

104] Frontal: the frontal lobes, the largest part of the cerebral hemispheres, have convoluted ridges running between sulci or grooves. Parietals: the side upper-to-middle lobes of the cerebral hemispheres.

109] Ethmoid: a squarish bone between the eye sockets at the base of the nose.

111] Temporals: the lowest lobes, located beneath the Sylvian fissure, a deep furrow that separates the temporal lobe from the frontal lobe.

112] Zygomatics: the parts of the skulls pertaining to the cheekbones.

115] Sphenoid: bones at the base of the skull.

116] Conchae: the turbinate, two shell-like projections from the ethmoid bone that form ledges on the inside of the nasal cavity. Palatines: bones relating to the palate or the roof of the mouth.

118] The three bones of the middle ear, named after their shapes, the stirrup (stapes), hammer (malleus), and anvil (incus).

120] tone poem: a poem where sound greatly exceeds content.

123] Occiput: the back of the skull.

124] Foramen Magnum: the largest of the holes in the skull, a round opening at the base of the skull through which the sinal cord nerves enter.

126] vascular: having to do with blood and other vessels in the body.

129] triple / membranes: the meninges.

137] phagocytes: white blood-cells, destroyers of bacteria.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Copyright 2002 Red Blood Black Ink White Paper Exile Editions
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Phyllis Gotlieb, Red Blood, Black Ink, White Paper: new and selected poems, 1961-2001 (Toronto: Exile Editions, 2002): 53-57. PS 8513.O77R33 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1969
Publication date note: Ordinary, moving (1969).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/1/11

Composition date: 1969
Composition date note: Ordinary, moving (1969).
Rhyme: variously rhyming and unrhymed

Other poems by Phyllis Gotlieb