Images of breakage and loss, of illness and death, but also endurance,
resilience and tentative hope—fill this powerful collection of poems. "I
thought that life would always be forked/bone, splintering—just before it
snapped.//I thought it would always break more/towards me than away."
As a teenager, the poet on her way to a Springsteen show encounters a boy
who "stole stones from Springsteen's/driveway, called them "Springsteen
Rocks'" before being arrested for smoking opium. Years later he has taken
up music himself: "I heard him on the radio—/not Springsteen—the
boy…/He wasn't good but he was/something." By contrast, the poet "got a
job cleaning houses…./For two and a half hours each week/I cleaned one
bathroom. To the mirror/alone, I could lose my life." ("Rise")
Food imagery abounds, usually as a means of dealing with the stresses of
illness. "Nothing is only what it is—/the Vidalia onion sliced to
bloom…/looks like my little sister's/tulle ballet tutu discarded in a
bunch/on the hardwood floor.//A salmon sashimi rose…/is like the soft
floret of cancer,/opening on the vine/of her throat." The poet tries to
comfort her sister, again using a food analogy: "…I tell my sister/not to
worry about/her CT scan next week…./Think of the machine as a
giant/lifesaver—that's what it/looks like, peppermint flavor./You'll wait
inside/this ring shaped lifebuoy—/eyes closed, teeth clenched,/you'll think
of something else." (Something Else")
In the boo',s most powerful poem, "Borscht," the color red and the food it
adorns stands in for blood, for a certain kind of loss. "Red in the toilet bowl
red on the white sheets/red roses my least favorite in white vases/in my
painted white room. Red beets red cabbage/red meat in borscht poured in
the cracked white bowl/I eat every sour meal in for weeks." The source of
all this red is revealed shockingly in the next stanza: "I was forty when I
had an abortion." The fact that the prospective child was not planned for or
desired does not mitigate the sadness nor her bewilderment at not wanting
what so many women crave, "this unwanted gift on the doorstep of my
stomach/I didn't know how to refuse.//So many women believe that to be a
woman is to suffer./Who am I to tell them they're wrong." Even the poet's
attempt at humor cuts deep. "My husband asks what's this an empty pot/on
the stove tinged pink. It's my abortion borscht I tell him./And I laugh. Not
because it's funny."
Not all is dark in this collection. The poet finds hard-won beauty in such
things as "Sea Glass." "My mother loved the cool cobalt blue, well
-worn/smooth shards like Chinese porcelain, coveted/for their polished,
smoky tone.//After the ocean took Kris, we gathered/handfuls to take
home—Heineken and whisky jug/specks frothy from low tide, shiny from
the shoreline.//My mother never wanted flowers—fresh/reminders of what
can die. She wanted a jarred rainbow/on the shelf, hard colors to fill our
The poet also remembers wryly the flawed but nonetheless real beauty of
"Syracuse China." "Because the company guaranteed the glaze would not
fracture,/craze, or crack,/we spent our days playing among mountains of
spectacular failure." In a museum, she and her mother look at "the display
of donated plates and bowls./Mounted on the wall/were the faultless
versions of all the dishes I set and cleared//washed, dried, put away." The
broken bits of ceramic even provide a means to make art: "One day a friend
figured out that a shard could be used as chalk./It was a miracle,/we
thought, loading our pockets with their mistakes, to draw//on our own
sidewalks and driveways. Even the cracked/foundations/of our homes
were decorated with flowers, animals, suns."
In addition to being a marvelous collection of poems, the book itself is a
remarkable piece of art, beautifully designed and illustrated with images by
the poet's husband, Joshua Flint, himself a brilliant artist.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tara recently at the AWP conference in
Seattle. We had several very enjoyable conversations and I acquired her
book. I literally couldn't put it down. I started reading it that night,
continued on the long plane ride home, and finished back in the comfort of
my home. I have now read it several times and my admiration only grows
with each reading.
I am further delighted to turn this over to Tara for her own thoughts about
the book and her work.
Thank you for taking the time to talk about your work.
How did you get started writing poetry? Was there one defining
moment or did it come gradually?
I loved reading from the beginning. My mother is what you'd call an avid
reader and she raised my siblings and I to be lifelong dedicated readers as
well. When I was a kid I read everything, including books of poems.
There were big incentives in the 80's and 90's for reading. Pizza. Buttons.
"Book-It" was a whole thing partnered with Pizza Hut. You read books and
you got free pizza. You got a button.
Also, in addition to the library there was the book mobile that would roll up
and it was the best day ever. It was like a food truck but with books you
could eat up and didn't have to pay for. A library on wheels. I loved books
more than anything and yet when I was around 10 I wrote a poem about
playing my saxophone probably because I thought that would make a much
cooler poem. The saxophone poem made me a legend in my family. I am
45 years old and my brothers still, after years of asking them not to, call me
The first poem I wrote had that strong of an impact of "my readers." It gave
me a nickname like "Toots" for life! That's how powerful poetry is. How
lasting. Seriously though, I fell in love with the language of poetry at a very
young age and have been in love ever since.
What poets or other writers have influenced and/or sustained
you in your writing?
I like how you use the word "sustained." I am influenced by many poets
and writers but it is the poem that sustains me. I am drawn to specific,
individual poems more so than a poet's oeuvre. It is a poem like Sandra
Upham's "Rape" that will stay with you for the rest of your life. A poem like
Fleur Adcock's "Weathering."
May I just go ahead and give praise to the poem? "Heavy Rain" by Jane
Kenyon, "I Stare at a Cormorant" by Tiana Clark, "OBIT (Grief)" by Victoria
Chang, "Elegy" by Aracelis Girmay, "A Nap" by Toi Derricotte, "The Night
After You Lose Your Job" by Debra Kuan, "The Writing" by Jane Wong,
"Meanwhile" by Richard Siken, "Meditations in an
Emergency" by Cameron Awkward-Rich, "Shoulders" by Naomi Shihab
Nye, "To the Young Who Want To Die" by Gwendolyn Brooks, "Spring
Comes To a Gray Country" by Dorianne Laux, "Ode to Friendship" by Noor
Hindi, "What It Look Like" by Terrance Hayes, "There Are Days" by Kate
Baer, "Things" by Lisel Mueller, "Letter" by Natasha Tretheway.
There are certain writers whose work is very important to me but
whose influence doesn't really show up in my own poems in any way you
can see or feel. I can list writers like favorite flowers or birds- Mary Ruefle,
Nick Flynn, Lauryn Hill, Marie Howe, MF Doom, Jake Skeets, Alex
Dimitrov, The Last Emperor, Megan Thee Stallion, Lucille Clifton, Coast
Contra, Jane Hirshfield, Naomi Shihab Nye, Anne Michaels, Patrick Lawler,
W.S. Merwin, Joy Harjo as well as writer friends I know who are
not published widely or at all and who write texts and email that are so full
of brilliance I am in awe of every word.
Your husband Joshua Flint is a fine visual artist who provided
illustrations for your book. Have you collaborated before? How
does his work affect yours and vice versa?
We have an astonishing effect on one another's work. We tend to get a little
stoned in early evening, after an early dinner and with cups of tea and talk
and talk and talk. We talk very openly and creatively. We are each other's
first reader, editor, and critic. We are radically honest with one another.
Joshua's first book, Memory Forest, is a 234-page retrospective art book
spanning a decade from 2012-2022. A big, beautiful book with splashy
pages of paintings and quiet studies, interview, and essay. I copyedited his
book and he did the cover artwork and interior image for mine. We are
forever connected to each other's ISBN. We often dream about making a
book together, a visual poetic narrative, something like Who
Owns The Clouds by Mario Brassard and Gerard Dubois. Imagine delicate
and moody gouache paintings telling a story, the words alongside the
images are sparse and physical, powerful and poised—this is our dream
collaboration project. I really love the painter-poet relationship we have.
I title a lot of his paintings and he teaches me about tone and composition,
about patience and how something is always in relation to everything else.
The book is not only a remarkable collection of poems, but also a
beautifully designed artifact. Did you work with Slapering Hol
and/or a designer to create it?
I met you at the AWP conference this year in Seattle and it was there that I
realized just how remarkable a chapbook from Slapering Hol is by the
many people who just wanted to touch them, hold them in their hands and
admire the craftsmanship. They truly are beautiful. People would actually
gasp as they asked "are these handmade?" It is just a very rare thing these
days. They are not glossy mass- produced books but more of
an artisanal artifact as you said. I worked alongside the editors at Slapering
Hol and their designer, Ed Rayher from Swamp Press, and we discussed
color palette, font, and how the artwork should complement the tone of the
poems and I feel proud of what we made.
And finally, what's next?
I think the more time you spend with a poem or a painting the more you
understand about yourself. And when you live side by side with a piece of
art it also knows you better than anyone. I just want to keep having this
type of relationship—with myself, with the work. It's all I have ever wanted
and as I get older I understand how easy it is for what's important to slip
away if you don't pay attention.
To order Bone Wishing, go here:
To learn more about Tara Flint Taylor, visit her website:
To see more of Joshua Flint's art: