You could say this poem is my take on the hero’s journey, if the hero’s journey were a map you found on the back of a cheap postcard on a wire rack in a gas station on the most touristy section of Route 66. Okay maybe not that bad. For many years I did feel I was caught up in some mystical, cosmic choreography around vertebrae and personal growth and “growing a backbone” because yes, in my universe, god or whatever is a terrible punster.
I should have said this poem is based on actual events, so most of its development was in the years it took to accumulate the bones, during vignettes that transpired essentially as you read them in the poem:
During the seizure at 15,
the weekend getaway at 21,
the road trip at 25,
and the neighborhood stroll at 32.
The mysticism traveled with me for a long time. I took pictures of the bones during my deviantArt era, when I was feeling particularly artsy or weird or macro-y with my camera. Here’s one of the bones from the ocean, held between my teeth because why not? It was deviantArt.
The more interesting turn in the story came for me later, when after the birth of my second child, the years at a desk job and the sedentary life crept up on me, my back became not a metaphor for spiritual growth, but a literal pain. It cast a pall on the feeling of bone magic I’d carried. At first I wrote the poem earnestly, trying to process meaning between these two opposing bone states, but I couldn’t get at it. Too many real-life struggles that left me feeling drained and injured beyond just my body, too much lingering loss and no sense of resolution, or even resolve.
Eventually, I played with the form, decided the (then) present day sections needed to be prose-poems to shed even the hint of literary magic of free verse, because magic was no longer what I felt about it. When I added the reference to Joseph Campbell and my so-called failed hero’s journey, it seemed done enough to share. Probably I could’ve just done some yoga.
Part of me does still wonder if there is some weird horrifying discovery ahead of me, like I will find a completely articulated human skeleton somewhere. (If so, the joke’s on you, Joseph, it’s not mine — I’m getting cremated when I go). I still have the bones, though. My daughter thinks they’re cool, and wonders if they are from sharks or dolphins. I said “maybe,” so there could still be a little magic left in them.