The book was born from the pages of old medical textbooks and looking through outdated Wikipedia pages on human anatomy. The poems within are broken up into parts based on different bones in the human body. Each begins with a description of the bones and Walrath’s rumination of what they can mean culturally. Like Glimmerglass Girl, there’s a preoccupation with violence committed against women that lends a terrible edge to the work.
Though it’s made up of some 60 individual poems, the book is best read as a stream of consciousness musing on death, ghosts, decay, and obsession. Some of Walrath’s favorite themes are present, including broken flowers (she’s long been fixated on peonies), the weakness of the human body, and the way relationships are often about control.
Unlike Glimmerglass Girl, the language in The Smallest of Bones is almost completely colorless. Rather than red blood, it dwells on pale bone, transparent specters, the anemic hue of the moon, and the formlessness of human voices. Her descriptions of bones explore what they look like when they break and how the rot in the earth. There’s something very post-apocalyptic in the way it’s worded.
It’s also a collection of conflict. It’s hard to tell at times if Walrath is chronicling a history of domestic abuse or simply the thorniest parts of love. One particular passage near the end stands out as the best example of its macabre tone.
is the fuel
of lost dreamers
after you said this
I knew I chose wrong
but I still loved the fuck out of you
maybe I’m the problem
What it definitely is, is sharp. The tangled web of Walrath’s poetry is like some sort of Jigsaw death trap full of razor edges from broken pieces. It’s deeply uncomfortable reading, but it’s also often familiar. Though she couches everything in dramatic, almost Victorian Gothic language (when she’s not swearing), you can still see the skeleton of every day romantic exultation and atrocity. It’s a baleful look under the skin, which I suppose is kind of the point.
Over the years, Walrath has easily cemented herself as the city’s premiere horror poet, and The Smallest of Bones is her best work yet. Just watch out for splinters.
The Smallest of Bones
By Holly Lyn Walrath