Bone Key

"He used to call his body Brother Ass. . . ." —Saint Bonaventure, Life of Saint Francis



Audio: Hear Richard Wilbur, former poet laureate of the United States, read "Bone Key" (1:53)

     You would think that here, at least,
In dens by night, on tawny sands by day,
Poor Brother Ass would be a kingly beast.
So does the casuarina seem to say,

     Whose kindred haziness
Of head is flattering to a bloodshot eye;
So too the palm's blown shadows, which caress
Anointed brows and bodies where they lie,

     And Angel's Trumpets, which
Proclaim a musky scent in fleshly tones.
Yet in this island soil that's only rich
In rock and coral and Calusa bones,

     It's hardihood that thrives,
As when a screw pine that the gale has downed,
Shooting new prop-roots from its trunk, survives
In bristling disarray by change of ground,

     Or the white mangrove, nursed
In sea-soaked earth and air, contrives to expel
From leafstalk glands the salt with which it's cursed,
Or crotons, scorched as by the flames of Hell,

     Protectively attire
Their leaves in leather, and so move to and fro
In the hot drafts that stir the sun's harsh fire,
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.





Presented by

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In