Joseph Ross' Meeting Bone Man (Main Street Rag, 2012) is a ruminative journey through the violence and hope of what it means to be human in the 21st century. Presided over by the "bone man," a recurring character who brings a comic-macabre sense of death into the everyday, each section unfolds a particular part of the map of that journey.
Beginning in Darfur, Ross vividly imagines himself and us in the tents and camps of the displaced, moving to the urban blight and graffito artists of America. Further sections pay tribute to his mother, to veterans, to the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, to his own veteran father's gradual decline and disappearance into death. What struck me about the book was where it ended, with a poem like "Rising at Dawn," the kind of aubade that is now freighted with all the grief and loss that precedes it:
Rising at DawnIt is, of course, "the almost of hope," what Nadezhda Mandelstam called (after St. Paul), "hope against hope," that propels the poet of witness into the poet of survival, of faith in persistence. Thank you, Joseph Ross, for your persistence, your clarity, your hope.
Rising at dawn
in my hushed house,
I see from the bedroom window
that the sky is brushed
with the prelude of pink,
the not-quite of light,
still surrounded by the
certainty of darkness.
This faint rose in the night sky
does not bloom,
rather, it gathers shape imperceptibly,
while the persistent night considers
the perhaps of surrender.
It is this most gradual approach,
this silent other,
that changes into
the almost of hope.