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Short Fiction
Instruments of the Bones
by Stephen Behrendt

Price: $10.00
93 pages
trade paper
ISBN: 0922811148
LCCN #: 91-035762

Old Dog

What am I to do with you, then?
Half blind, nearly toothless, bony paws waggling in dream-chase,
you lie there, who cannot even walk
some days, when the arthritis swells your joints.
And on those days, on those cold gray November afternoons,
those premature, mizzling March evenings.
when I carry you nearer the fire,
your eyes, your deep hazel eyes,
speak something that is not pain; your tail moves slowly.
We grow old, my friend;
you my companion, my fore-shadow.

Is it misery to be so, to be stiff, and still to dream:
to run breathless miles now only in sleep;
to be carries, carefully, like a full cup of tea,
merely to feel the fire's warmth on your trembling flanks?
Would you be out of this, then;
would you be away, dead, gone who knows where,
but leaving my stove-side vacant, incomplete,
your pillow out into the trash, as though you had never lived,
as though our eyes had never met, before yours clouded blue,
our needs never converged these empty winter nights?
Do I love you, somehow, or you me,
or have we merely shared a time and space,
a cabin with a fire, some little food?

You have earned your warm place, your meals
softened in my kitchen, spooned when you cannot lift your head.
They are yours, and I should carry you always,
burn this house to warm you.
Do I owe you, at last, death? Is that dignity, finally?
I am your tormentor, then, withholding what I might give,
outside, with my knife, my gun.
I shall try to make you easy in your grief
for I am selfish
both for myself now, watching you sleep,
and for myself someday, some deep day, only remembering.
Sleep, old friend: I shall not be your death
though we share a thousand winters at this fire,
I gazing at your dark side, watching you breathe,
losing you at every moment,
grieving for us both, indistinguishable,
while outside the soft snow falls in silence.

“Behrendt knows that love is the other side of mortality, and in his poetry he gathers up our lost, wounded, strayed, and fallen. The flute he fashions from a hollow bone plays unforgettable music.”—Emily Grosholz

“It is no mean thing to sing en masse, as Whitman put it. Stephen C. Behrendt, inInstruments of the Bones, extends his genealogy from the self out, insisting on poetry's capacities to speak to and for other lives. It is a poetry of generosity, much to be valued, especially in times like ours.” —Robert Gibb

“[Behrendt’s] poetry is full of compassion for the Other, and this empathy takes on moral weight without being the least self-praising. Instruments of the Bonesis a mature and rigorous book that considers the brutalities attendant upon mortality. Stephen Behrendt transforms inevitable cruelties into sorrows that are shared and bearable."—Alice Fulton

Stephen C. Behrendt appears here in his first book of poems at 45. Already established as a critic-scholar of the English Romantic period, this poets comes to us with maturity, wisdom, and poetic skill.… One of Behrendt’s poems insists that he can never quite manage to write philosophical poetry. In fact, he writes a better kind: meditative poetry. Here the poet observes an object or scene, recalls an episode or person from the past, tells a real or imaginary story—then merely reflects upon it, feeling no necessity to come up with the Answer—or for that matter, any answer.… After two or three decades of poetical anger, self-pity, political cant, and literary Know-Nothingism, I find his work reassuringly solid.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

Instruments of the Bones speaks volumes in both subject and content. The man can write.” —Lincoln Journal-Star


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