How often do you think about your calcaneus? On ‘The Smallest of Bones’

Book cover: The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath

How often you think about your cranium? mandible? sternum? sacrum? spine? calcaneus? temporal?

Admittedly, I, a lover of poetry and not as devout a student of anatomy, until recently could only have definitively pointed out the locations of four of these. “Temporal,” I’d have said, was probably somewhere in the head (yes), “sacrum” was a distant memory from yoga class, and “calcaneus,” never mind.

But here, in The Smallest of Bones, Holly Lyn Walrath makes of anatomy a poem. Here I am, finally excuseless, learning my anatomy.

Sex and gender

Sexed and gendered, the skeleton is. Examination of the skull yields up “sex, but not gender.” On the other hand, the mandible may be fractured “in cases of domestic violence”—a gendered issue, right? An important question, the way sex and gender are bound up in each other, in ways ranging from invisible to tenuous to obvious, right down to our bones.

Natural and supernatural

Of the cranium, Walrath tells us that “the demon’s tongue is rough like a cat’s” and bursts someone else’s secret: “I wanted to eat your dreams when I die, you say”.


Until recently, it would have been hard for me even to guess at the identity of the “calcaneus.” The word “los calcetines” (socks) is more popular in Mexico; here in Colombia, we say “las medias.”

But it so happened that the bone spurs I had unknowingly cultivated for some five years, sprouting slowly and simultaneously from my left and right heels, suddenly reared their minor-demon levels of bitey pain, and a couple months ago I got the X-ray diagnosis: calcaneal spurs. So I do know, already, by now, the calcaneus. The heel. The other heel. Unforgettable.

And so, I am thankful for Walrath’s bibulous ghost prayers written in honor of this sneaky body part:

“my body is two-thirds whiskey
and one-third

Holly Lyn Walrath

This is, indeed—I am about to quote another of Walrath’s “calcaneus” lines—how I currently feel about this bone I never previously contemplated and took for granted until it began to hurt: “god I love the things I hate”.

You can find The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath at CLASH Books.

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