Gathering the Bones Together

By Gregory Orr b. 1947 Gregory Orr

for Peter Orr

When all the rooms of the house
fill with smoke, it’s not enough
to say an angel is sleeping on the chimney.

1. a night in the barn

The deer carcass hangs from a rafter.
Wrapped in blankets, a boy keeps watch
from a pile of loose hay. Then he sleeps

and dreams about a death that is coming:
Inside him, there are small bones
scattered in a field among burdocks and dead grass.
He will spend his life walking there,
gathering the bones together.

Pigeons rustle in the eaves.
At his feet, the German shepherd
snaps its jaws in its sleep.


          2
A father and his four sons
run down a slope toward
a deer they just killed.
The father and two sons carry
rifles. They laugh, jostle,
and chatter together.
A gun goes off
and the youngest brother
falls to the ground.
A boy with a rifle
stands beside him,
screaming.


          3
I crouch in the corner of my room,
staring into the glass well
of my hands; far down
I see him drowning in air.

Outside, leaves shaped like mouths
make a black pool
under a tree. Snails glide
there, little death-swans.


          4. smoke
Something has covered the chimney
and the whole house fills with smoke.
I go outside and look up at the roof,
but I can’t see anything.
I go back inside. Everyone weeps,
walking from room to room.
Their eyes ache. This smoke
turns people into shadows.
Even after it is gone
and the tears are gone,
we will smell it in pillows
when we lie down to sleep.


          5
He lives in a house of black glass.
Sometimes I visit him, and we talk.
My father says he is dead,
but what does that mean?
Last night I found a child
sleeping on a nest of bones.
He had a red, leaf-shaped
scar on his cheek.
I lifted him up
and carried him with me,
though I didn’t know where I was going.


          6. the journey
Each night, I knelt on a marble slab
and scrubbed at the blood.
I scrubbed for years and still it was there.
But tonight the bones in my feet
begin to burn. I stand up
and start walking, and the slab
appears under my feet with each step,
a white road only as long as your body.


          7. the distance
The winter I was eight, a horse
slipped on the ice, breaking its leg.
Father took a rifle, a can of gasoline.
I stood by the road at dusk and watched
the carcass burning in the far pasture.

I was twelve when I killed him;
I felt my own bones wrench from my body.
Now I am twenty-seven and walk
beside this river, looking for them.
They have become a bridge
that arches toward the other shore.

Gregory Orr, “Gathering the Bones Together” from The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (2002: Copper Canyon Press, 2002). www.coppercanyonpress.org

Source: The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)

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Poet Gregory Orr b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Nature, The Body, Living, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

 Gregory  Orr

Biography

The author of more than 10 collections of poetry and several volumes of essays, criticism, and memoir, Gregory Orr is a master of the short, personal lyric. His poetry has been widely anthologized and translated into at least 10 languages. Observes critic Hank Lazer, “From Burning the Empty Nests (1973) to the present, Orr gradually developed the ability to fuse his incredible skill at visual precision—the signature of his . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, The Body, Living, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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