Book Review: Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

Rule of the Bone by Russel Banks Image from Amazon

Chappie failed in school in Au Sable NY and journeyed to Plattsburg to become a mall rat. He had lived with his ineffectual mom and alcoholic, sexually abusive stepfather. His biological father split when he was 5. Chappie starts down the twisty trail of drugs and larceny and general low-level crime; hangs with a biker gang; meets a child pornographer and his victim Rose along the way. He gets a tattoo (see the bookcover) and becomes Bone. When he meets a wise Rastafarian in the US as a migrant worker, I-Man takes Bone with him to Jamaica. Although drugs are still a dominant theme, Bones meets his father (too coincidentally), has some vivid trips with the Rastas where he begins to grasp racial appropriation and starts to have some solid insights of his own. Who is to say if it’s literary fiction–but 5 points for an engrossing read written with integrity and authenticity, hard to put down.




Where I Write

Finally I learned to carry a notebook and a writing implement with me always, so I could write anywhere, anytime: in the woods underneath a deer stand; at the seed store; accidentally locked in a stall in a New Zealand loo; at my job, between patients or sitting on the stone steps of the only part of the building complex that hasn’t been modernized. Trains, planes, automobiles. At odd hours, at my old oaken desk in the study. Also, on the deck, tucked among tree tops with with steep hillsides of grand forest.  Here is one piece that I wrote there:

A Good Morning

Sometimes just something to write on
and an implement to write with

fountain pen
pot of tea
rose petal cup
stack of books at my elbow
thin volumes of poetry
magical realism
measured rhythm
book of translations
planetary alignment
Tarot cards
good back support
better lighting
a magnifying glass for the fine print
bottle of ink
my well of experience
reflective surface
book of runes

and still other times

A Saturday Blessing from WholeHeart

Every morning, the call I rise to is one of “fierce love” –  to stand and act with rigor and conviction for the world we envision – one of respect, love and honor for all beings. It is with this fierceness that I welcome you to this month’s newsletter.

May you stand on earth, with roots and wings, and firmly voice what you know matters in your heart.

Sometimes, this is exactly what you need in your in-box.

Holly Wilkinson, Executive Director
WholeHeart: Living on the Learning Edge


Going to Seed

“. . .but let the wings take root and the roots fly.” Juan Ramon Jimenez

Summers, I deadhead madly, staving off going to seed.
As if that were the enemy, to be avoided at all cost.
Autumns, I crouch, a paragon of patience,
gathering tiny seeds that store magic,
guarding secrets of their species.
Despite dry and dying,
stately, ornate seed pods mature with singular beauty,
protecting their bundled contents from the elements
until snow blankets the road
and carries them forward, farther.
Howling winds carry milkweed’s silky wings,
blowing them through deep hollows to bloom on different hills.
Jewelweed daughters shimmer and explode,
propelling themselves far from the mother plant,
demanding more room to grow.
Burdock seed sons, impetuous,
latch on to shaggy, unkempt coats,
lumbering toward next year.
Planted firm and sturdy, my own years accumulate
softening seed casings of resistance.
Control, worry, sorry.
I kneel in the familiar gardener’s pose.
I bow my head to seed.

Collective Blessings to the Ancestors


You loved ones in quiet graveyards of centuries and before,
on twisty back roads nearly disappeared from today,
where deer gather at dusk and ghosty white flowers climb with mysterious vines.
You loved ones in graves still fresh,
where the good scent of rich dirt mingles with funeral flowers.
The salty scent of slow tears
trace the lines of loss in your mourners’ faces.

You loved ones, your powdered bones lying lost and quiet, somewhere
for centuries. Grave dust, star dust.
You loved ones with your ashes settled into rough urns of stone,
resting on mantles, or lost in forgotten cupboards of no consequence.

You loved ones: listen.
Your remains gave the spark of you back to the universe.
But the glow of you still glimmers.
At last your daughters are seeking you.
We can almost feel where you are.

Contemplating tattered prayer flags whipped by the north wind,
pondering the dance of trees in the storms,
breathing deep the moss on dark forest floors.
We carry each of your stories yet still know so few.

The language of the dead is difficult for the living.
Loved ones, we pledge this to you: we are learning.

Hymn of Gratitude to a Season

I chose autumn to be born, to move from realms in spiral galaxies that swirled with uncertain and joyful dust,  from starry excitement and pulsing night skies, toward a time created from my mother’s dreaming of my heavenly, absent father.

In a night-time sleeping bag on remote national forest land, there is little distinction between the deeply wooded landscape and the vast open, indigo sky. My eyes ached with the cadence of autumn. I chose my sun sign October time to conceive my son, who carries his bruising bravely. Once, while he played near a gnarled old maple, a brilliant monarch rested on his smiling, open face. Such a hopeful face. So, was he special, to be touched thusly? Or was the monarch injured? Special, injured, intact, broken—what are any of us, then? Who interprets those signs? Who made those words?

When September brought lengthening days, my daughter was born. She perched on bed edges, bouncing to her own musical laughter from beginnings in a distant border town, where campfires and communes held her snug and safe, then she leapt into fabricated city-scapes, where lights shined bright on false freedoms. She ricocheted back to a blue-collar holding cell, and are we all prisoners, then, inside lives that we construct and inside walls that we put up then decorate prettily, to cover some inner chaos?

My own persistent feelings wash up again and again on the edges of these pages.

This is what I know of the difference between wise waiting and dangerous inertia: absolutely nothing.

On stalks supporting dark, drooping heads of the Russian sunflowers after first frost, a busy, up-and-down chipmunk reminds me:  Sun sign in Scorpio, a gift.  It enables me to live into the mystery of things, releasing the need to own answers.

A Poem Inspired by Beltane


In scattered huts and houses on the hillside
yellow lights appear in dark windows
like bonfires.

Every morning this fire festival
built from yesterday’s brushwood
fueled by good work and breakfast
and the blaze of sun
as the new day surfaces.

Whether we’ve spent the night on our knees
or at the crossroads,
whether we receive first light with celebration
or with dread,
whether we’ve drifted in dreams born by rose petals
or in nightmares.
Dawn calls to each of us, alike.

What path will you walk today?
How will you worship
in this age of dreams and visions?
Will you whisper, or call out
to all that is holy?

I will kneel in the soft dirt,
murmuring spells to the seeds.