“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith

Hi all,

Last semester I took Fiction II with Rachel Hall.  The class after Trump was elected, Hall gave us this poem which continues to resonate with me:

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.

While this piece outlines a lot of hardships, it ends with a “bright side.”  What do you make of this?  I think this is an important piece concerning our current political climate.
I don’t want to say too much because I think theses words should be absorbed.
Do you use your words to “make this place beautiful”?  I certainly think that is something I am trying to do when I write.

2 Replies to ““Good Bones” by Maggie Smith”

  1. hi ari!

    thanks for this post, and thank you for providing a poem from which we can find some light during a rapidly changing political climate.

    always, and especially during times like these where my sensitivities and vulnerabilities are heightened by current events, i question my role as a writer. i think it’s normal to question if we are leaving a positive mark on the world, or if we are not leaving an impact at all.

    As writers, our community is the world. poetry as activism has been brought up on this blog many times, and it’s important for us to remember this title not just during intense times, but every day.

    my fave thing about this poem was the repeating line “though I keep this from my children.” often, the child-parent dynamic in which a parent hides the reality of the pain of the world to them, is seen as betrayal and lies. But the speaker here is gentle-handed, and has good intentions. I think there’s room to be thankful for not being exposed to everything at once. gradual exposure and introduction to the reality of this life is necessary. there’s a metaphor in here for how we should pour ourselves into our poetry.

    this poem really got me thinking about what our ‘limits’ are as poets, constantly receiving sensory info and external sources constantly flooding our minds. i think it’s important to always be in the practice of balancing being aware of suffering and of the evils of the world with being grounded in what makes our hearts feel lighter.

    it is also a refreshing reminder of the ability of a poem to offer comfort.

    thank you for this post!


  2. This is definitely a good poem to consider in light of the recent political change and general atmosphere. Moreover, the speaker–as Juliet said–talks of the shielding vs. sheltering dynamic that parents navigate. I feel like that transcends more than just one parent-child relationship to encompass the whole human race, though.
    Everyone (and perhaps that a bit too general and optimistic, but I’d like to believe in things like that regardless) wants the best for the next in line, so to speak. Not just “my children,” but the next generation, the children of the world. We want to preserve as many buildings with “good bones” as possible while telling and teaching our children how to make it their own and make it beautiful. It’d be nice if things were perfect, or even just better, but there is some consolation in the knowing that there is potential for greatness in the hands of those who buy the place after us, no?
    That being said, it’d be pretty remiss of if all the parents and realtors didn’t help out with some of the renovations!

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