Gnawed Bones by Peggy Shumaker

gnawedbones2The poet Peggy Shumaker is generous. Her writing, her mentoring, her genuine ease with people, all of these she shares unstintingly. Her newest collection Gnawed Bones by Red Hen Press is infused with her generosity and a tenderness that is all-encompassing. Shumaker’s vision casts a wide net – Alaska, Hawaii, the past, the present, art, wildfire, death – nothing is excluded.

In addition, Shumaker employs various forms. In some poems, short lines compress the images and the language to build tension. Others are closer to the brief lyric essays that she used in her memoir Just Breathe Normally. Although Shumaker is brilliant at the lyric, in parts of this collection she strays further along the continuum towards narrative, spinning tales of her father’s illness, his wives, her childhood, her relationship with her mother. In the poems about her own brush with death, Shumaker is at once philosophical and deeply physical. The lines in these poems squeeze the breath out of the reader, as if by such tight control, she can replicate the experience of each breath being both a burden and a wonder.

To read this collection is to travel the world for a time with Peggy Shumaker, an experience which is dazzling. One emerges on the other end and closes the book with a deep breath having visited some of the more beautiful places in the world, as well as along a harrowing path of pain and healing. The grace that is so much Peggy Shumaker’s hallmark is the keystone of the collection. It is like having a tour guide who sees the world with eyes that cherish. Even pain, even sorrow is luminous when held up to the light of Peggy’s eyes.

I encourage you to investigate Peggy Shumaker’s writing. I will close here with two poems that will give you the taste of the beauty in Gnawed Bones.


after Chagall

What kind of Moses
would arrive in the form
of a rooster tall enough

to brush his comb
along the doorjamb,
his arched back

a feathered saddle
iridescent, not with sweat?
One roll of his red eye

and this unrepentant woman
mounts up, clings to wattle
and tendon, leans her ear to his beak

to catch each triangular
syllable tremulous as dawn.
Her doubts burrow

deep into down, she strokes
veins at the base of his throat,
feels the faint tick of faith

just out of reach.
The silty creek of her mind
cannot yet float

that rowboat where some tiny god’s
giving one of the chosen
a free ride to the other side.

~Peggy Shumaker

Gnawed Bones

If language is bones, hard parts
of speech, what do skulls of pack rats
crushed into owl pellets
have to tell us?

If this delicate pelvis
once balanced a gravid
javelina, what word passes on
to her stoats?

If cicada shells hang on
like single mothers starved
for touch, what does hot
wind whisper through them?

If every day
re-enacts creation,
if we live
here, now

in the first world
and the last
let us speak
in our bones

languages of water
from all skies, from
deep underground.
Let our bones quench

the thirst of history,
thirst for all we yearn
to sip, marrow
of each dry tongue.

~Peggy Shumaker

You can purchase Peggy Shumaker’s new book directly from Red Hen Press as well as other outlets.

I will update this post with a picture of the incredible cover of Gnawed Bones just as soon as my internet host repairs their servers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *