Good bones

This is the time of year when the contours of the Berkshire hills once again dominate the view. Gentle and curvaceous, they recline against the winter landscape, silent as the snow that often covers their flanks. Melville imagined Mount Greylock which filled his vista to the north as a white whale breaching the surface: Moby-Dick in all his ferocious beauty. Harvey Mountain, which looms above us can seem like an enormous wave about to break, its spume of snow whistling down through the hemlocks. The Berkshires ­are among the oldest mountains in the world, first formed when Africa collided with North America creating the Appalacian range, then gradually weathered and carved into their present shape — earth’s good bones — over the last 500 million years.

This poem by the American poet Maggie Smith went viral after the Orlando nightclub shooting five years ago and has now been shared hundreds of thousands of times.  Though dark, I share it here as a fitting way of closing out this dismal year.

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.


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23 Responses to Good bones

  1. Cheryl Sullivan says:

    I had never read that poem before . It certainly is fitting for this strange and unsettling time. I am glad you shared it.

  2. Phyllis says:

    Thanks Liza. Dark indeed, but so true. Keep smiling. Love you. p.

  3. gwen rhodes says:

    oh this makes me cry…ok I want to cry because Iread it…oh what a sad commentary on life…true but sad…so very sad…
    Liza wishing you peace and happiness where you find it.

  4. Elaine says:

    In the midst of such darkness, in the midst of all the conflicts and problems of our world… a family of 6 lost their home and everything on Christmas night. Hope lies in this: the whole community has surrounded them in every way—a place to live right in their neighborhood, teachers making up school bags, church members gathering cash, food, clothing, people replacing Christmas gifts with same items. On and on. People in small rural communities -no matter the politics, faith stance, etc. -still we “light candles in the darkness”. We offer hope to each other in spite of the darkness. We also are people living in the curves of the Appalachians in western VA. Appreciate your words

  5. Leslie Gold says:


  6. Margie Skaggs says:

    Perfect Liza – my sentiments exactly!

  7. Jenn says:

    Powerful and so tragic. I like how it ends… we could “make this place beautiful.”
    With everything happening in the world, we have to try! Against all odds, we have to try.
    Sending love and best wishes for a happier new year, dear cousin!

  8. Patty says:

    What a wonderful poem with great use of repetition.
    Thank you for your description of the Berkshires as a breaching whale.
    Happy New Year!

    • Liza says:

      Thanks, Patty. I was delighted to learn that a poem this good and true would find such a wide readership. There’s hope for this world!

  9. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Daring Liza to post this poem . When things feel dark it tends to bleed into everything. I say this as I keep hearing about more people In are about whose plans are wrecked by Covid. We are all learning the reality of impermanence. To pivot in a second. In reading the poem and the comments, whatever the percentage of kind vs. unkind in the world, the sheer beauty and magic of what can extend from humans is as fierce and strong as what created those mountains behind your sweet home in the Berkshire or that’s what I try and hold onto.

  10. Susan Fisher says:

    What a poem! I have been thinking constantly that it’s not my generation that is going to pay the price for the insanity we’re living with right now, but the generations to come. I guess I hope that they don’t know what is ahead for them.

  11. Lorraine tinger says:

    Thanks,Liza . Thus poem landed right in my gut!
    I would question her percentages though, I’d like to think we’re at least 51% good.

  12. Kate Gyllenhaal says:

    As dark as this poem is, it’s also a relief to hear these
    painful truths out in the open.
    This year especially we have witnessed the horrifying side of
    our damaged society right along with the generous and deeply loving side.
    It’s both shocking and confusing to wrangle with these extreme differences.

    The sentiment about, I keep this from my children hits home to me.
    We spend so much energy teaching the children in our lives to see all the best in life.
    It’s heartbreaking when they’re eventually exposed to the unimaginably dark and hateful side.

    But I will always believe that good, will prevail.
    What is life without hope?
    It’s time to bury this year deep in the ground and stomp on it!
    Here’s hoping 2022 will lead us into light and renewed love…across the globe.

    • Liza says:

      Thank you, Kate. I’m with you on good prevailing. I’ve always felt lucky to have been born an optimist, though it’s getting harder by the day to justify it! Xxx

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