Haunted by Ancient Bones

by | Nov 30, 2020 | November 2020 Writing | 9 comments

In stone and sky a universe

not yet grounded of foot and claw

in shallow seas


not yet sea grass to slow

an ocean’s roil

keep salt safe along a shore


came the joy of cyanobacteria

in its blue-green glory

gulping in


the light of the sun,

rising on its own bones

microlayer by microlayer,


eon by eon, billions

of single cells, expelling



fizzing up the seas,

rusting iron to heavy



turned rock-red

to stone, sacred mound

of dreamtime


and stromatolites––

rock- rough and swirled––

a single rock,


burns in my hand.


  1. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Martha, so thrilled you snuck your poem into the November coral… love how your piece centers around the plight of nature, and that of the ocean itself, with its myriad of challenges. Love the repeat of ‘not yet’ in the first two stanzas and also the intriguing scientific words (science- imagine that!!! LOL) like ‘cyanobacteria’ and ‘stromatolites.’ And how you also blend the infinite (‘dreamtime’) with the current or finite ‘heavy precipitant.’ This is a testimony to nature-in transit, and life-in-motion. And the symbolism of the burning rock in hand at the end implicates so much further beyond this lovely poem.

    Suggestion- possibly a hint of the speaker, who sneaks in on the last line (‘burns in my hand’)? Someplace earlier just a touch of who is experiencing all of this? But overall, WOW!

  2. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Thank you, Robert, and especially for attending to this last minute bit. This last few months for me has been so hard to find the interior space to write. I’m hoping a shift is underway. I like the suggestion to find a way to work the speaker into the poem somewhere earlier. Again, thanks, and hope your travels for Thanksgiving went well, and you and yours remain healthy. Hearts.

  3. David O'Connor

    Love this, not an extra word, gorgeous, wouldn’t change a thing, send it out into the world!

  4. jennifer vanderheyden

    I agree with everyone, Martha…love the title, the images, and my favorite lines:

    “not yet sea grass to slow

    an ocean’s roil

    keep salt safe along a shore”

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. John Steines

    Martha, read this a weeks or more ago intending to get back to it. Gosh you’re crossing time. Nice to see cyanobacteria in a poem.
    ‘turned rock-red – to stone, sacred mound – of dreamtime’: I know it’s coming to an end so I hang onto ‘rock-red’, ‘mound’, and ‘dreamtime’. I know these well. Reads like a masterpiece. Thank you. john

  6. Rogan

    Love the framing and sound here, Martha. And I love the number of words that fall in that non-poetry realm that you’re making poetry with. It’s really magnificent!

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