Bone-house [poem] by Anne Kaier

Saint Jerome ponders near an ancient skull, polished
like a vase. Something to symbolize mortality.
Does he scrub his thumb across the jagged edges of the nose
meditating on his likely death,
or does he just pat the thing,
admiring the way its curves
complement a water jug?
If death is your familiar, it may well lose its sting.

In the bath at night, I press palms into my meager scalp.
My hair, gone years ago, left but an inch of flesh
between my hands and the immortal bone.
Long after everything that makes me
quirky and unrealized has vanished,
this cap of bone will still survive.
In a coffin most likely, against
some pink sateen.
Maybe I should say good bye to my
too-hard head.

It’s flesh I fancy. My middle fingers
warm the empty hollows
of my face, massage my lips.
Oh lost and lingering flesh! Eyes, nose,
cartilage—all like spirit, fade.
I am part of it, my flesh,
my cheeks and eyes and lips are me.
The bone, some distant stranger.



Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This poem refers to the painting St. Jerome in Meditation by Caravaggio. The title comes from the Old English word for the human body: ban-hus, used in Beowulf line 3147: “flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,” trans by Seamus Heaney.]

Anne Kaier’s new memoir, Home with Henry, is forthcoming from PS Books in fall, 2014. Her essays and poetry appear in The Gettysburg Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review and Beauty is a Verb: An Anthology of Poetry, Poetics, and Disability which is on the American Library Association Notable Books list for 2012. She teaches at Arcadia University and Rosemont College.

Image by shawn