cover image Bone Map

Bone Map

Sara Eliza Johnson. Milkweed (PGW, dist.), $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-57131-469-7

Johnson's National Poetry Series-winning debut collection speaks to us "from a country near ruin,// from a forest lit only by rifle fire," where "the moon// ... rolls through you/ like a great city before a war." These poems are missives from landscapes so isolated they approximate post-apocalypse: ice fields, ravaged woods, the primordial sea. Johnson's landscapes are often empty, save for the single, clear-voiced speaker and, on occasion, wild animals such as the stag that catches "its antlers on the light's belly,/ spilling purple viscera/ everywhere." Surreal and fable-like, this is not a topical collection, and yet these poems are urgently aware that they were born of and into a world in which "Wind deepens the wounds// I leave with my boots. Nothing// is well." When Johnson's "war drones and swarms," her verbs double as nouns. This concern with the loss of integrity endured in a time of war marks a work that is equally preoccupied with the figuring of personal loss: "Your hands fell through me%E2%80%94/ two lights I almost broke// in half wanting." Johnson's poems, like light, clarify even as they pierce: "Though they cannot be deciphered,/ cannot become lighter,/ all moments will shine/ if you cut them open,/ glisten like entrails in the sun." (Sept.)