The Bones of the Tale

By Neile Graham

I read her bones like oracles

scour random records

newspapers    old books

looking for

fingerprints    her trail

living in time:

light with characters

trying to make a personal link

the children thought she was a witch

any hint of her passions

could tell me    what life is

who else have I to learn from

who else could tell me

how to live

touring the self:

I have no answers

I come here under the barrow

laughing deadly earnest

I ask myself how I am

knowing there is no state in this world

known as happy

why do I insist she must

have been happy

knowing the girl:

the words sing in the brain

we know her by blood

my head full of stories

I've lived thinking

waste not    want not

this is the only life

such a burden    so I'd better live it well

feeding the darkness:

the leaping thing that sputters obscenities

useful wives

glory gone to mud

if those that love you tortured you

how should I then live

if you bullied yourself

if you coasted    insulated

and thoughtless


loving the outlaw:

getting used to harm, a pure

and violent hatred of the lies we live by

words do not smuggle cheaply

I live    at the usual speed

dying    not any faster than average

as far as I know    tooth and nails

hanging onto this life

creating it    searching for her

living the hard life:

nearly crazy with sorrow

she wonders who will have her

it is herself she guards

Red rover red rover    I wonder

what I am surrendering to

I call her over

learning the powers:

cruel mother

she knows our face

a home for my imagination


holding them close

There's life in this:

I write her down

out of these fragments    I build her

out of these scraps    I construct myself

Neile Graham is Canadian by birth and inclination, but currently lives in Seattle. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in America, England, and Canada, and she has three full-length poetry collections (Seven Robins, Spells for Clear Vision, and Blood Memory). She is a graduate of and current workshop administrator for Clarion West. You can see more of her work at her website, or send her email at