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Good Bones
by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

typing prompt

Current Writing Prompt

Autumn and spring seem to me to be transitional seasons. Autumn is still some summer and sometimes it feels like winter. Early spring in my hometown is cold with frosts and the last snow, and late spring can feel much like summer.

People go through transitions. Most people probably go through at least a few every year - like the seasons. Some of your transitions may even be connected to the seasons -like school semesters or summer vacation, or living in a summer vacation place. But there are also the big "life transitions."

In Sonnet 123,  William Shakespeare writes:

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change... 
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

‘Sonnet 123’ is directed toward a personified version of “Time" who is told that though the narrator gets older, he doesn’t feel that he needs to change his personality accordingly. He resolves that no matter what happens in his life, he will be true to himself. I don't consider this to be one of the Bard's truest observations.

As a writing teacher, I taught about transition words and phrases to connect ideas and thoughts. I learned there were types: Causal (consequently); Additive (furthermore) Sequential (initially, finally), and Adversative (however, nevertheless). To older students, I taught transition sentences that connect one paragraph to another, and then later when they were writing longer pieces, I taught transitional paragraphs.

I learned in college that there was even an "Age of Transition" in the second half of the eighteenth century where the change was from pseudo-classicism to romanticism. The transitional poets mark the beginning of a reaction against the rational, intellectual, formal, artificial, and the unromantic poetry of the age of Pope and Johnson.

Here is part of "Autumn Song" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

One transition poem I like is "Originally" by Carol Ann Duffy. It is about a child who transforms as she emigrates to a new country, loses her original accent, and begins to sound like all the other students. There is loss and gain in this transition. 

All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
in my head. I want our own country, I said.

In a small collection of poems about transitions, I found a poem that I have heard Lucille Clifton read several times.

blessing the boats
(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear...

I like the way the poem ends - "and may you in your innocence / sail through this to that

Another fairly well-known poem about transition is "The Journey" by Mary Oliver, which begins:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–

We have used all three of those poets multiple times for our prompts, so this month we'll look at a poem by someone new to the website - Maggie Smith.  Her poem, "Good Bones" (from her collection Good Bones) begins with a wonderful line: "Life is short, though I keep this from my children." The speaker keeps a lot from her children and like a good realtor showing a lousy home, she tells them that life has "good bones."

This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

In "The Journey," Oliver writes about that moment when you take the chance and listen to your own truth and set sail (as Clifton says) into a new phase of your life. Transitions can be filled with optimism or filled with pessimism or apprehension. Your poem can be about one of those big life transitions or one of the small passages we often make.


The deadline for submissions for the next issue is
October 31, 2022
Please refer to our submission guidelines and look at our archive of more than two decades of prompts and poems, and our blog for much more about the prompts and poetry.