KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Tanka Prose: 360 words

Sticks and stones

by Janet Lynn Davis

Dem Bones
a song we all knew
as children...
back when skeletons
made us shiver

When it comes to my physical self, nothing else has been as strong, as solid. Intricate matrices of collagen and minerals: together, they form the framework that has supported and protected me. And once I’m long gone, they may serve as the surest proof I ever roamed this earth. Yet time and the toil of life have whittled away at them, the loss escalating over the past year or two.

“You must walk 30 to 45 minutes every day,” her no-nonsense instructions for me (among other instructions). I must have no excuses. We buy a treadmill so I can immediately move toward that goal, rain or shine—and we decide to squeeze the behemoth of a machine into an extra bedroom, in between two existing pieces of exercise equipment.

Clank-clink-clank and the whiz-whir of a power screwdriver. After nearly an hour, it’s assembled, ready to go. Ready for me to gently place my feet on the motorized track and begin the journey.

baby steps
to rebuild myself...
the miles
I’ve yet to travel
in this flesh-and-bone world


Author Notes:

1. The exact wording for the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” has varied through time. One of the publications in which it reportedly first appeared, in the form above, is The Christian Recorder (March 1862).

2. “Dem Bones” (also referred to as “Dry Bones” and “Dem Dry Bones”) is a traditional spiritual which contains the catchy lyrics “Hip bone connected to the back bone,” etc. While the American author, educator, and civil-rights activist James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) is widely credited with writing the song’s well-known melody, it’s possible that his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954), a composer, musician, and actor, collaborated with him. It appears the song was first recorded in 1928 by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers. Since then, a number of other artists have performed and recorded versions of “Dem Bones.” Sources don’t agree on all the details of the song’s history, and certain information about its genesis may remain forever unknown.

Publisher’s Note:

Interesting that at least one other spiritual whose title (and one of its stanzas) mentions dry bones was also recorded in 1928. Performed by Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882–1973), aka “The Minstrel of Appalachia,” the song is notable, among other reasons, as an early example of the banjo being played in “biblical” music.

For more information, see also My Old Weird America: An Exploration of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (20 February 2011). Scroll down to the section near the end, “The Dry Bones Variations,” for nearly a dozen recordings by various performers.

Janet Lynn Davis
Issue 8, August 2017

lives with her husband, and the local deer, in a quiet wooded community north of Houston, Texas. Since childhood, she’s had a strong interest in the written word as both art form and means of communication. Professionally, she worked for a couple of decades in the fields of technical writing/editing, marketing communications, and publications.

Janet’s poems, especially tanka and related forms, have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including KYSO Flash, Ribbons, A Hundred Gourds, Skylark, and red lights tanka journal. She served as vice president and contest coordinator of the Tanka Society of America in 2014–2015 and currently is the tanka prose editor at Haibun Today.

Poet’s blog: twigs&stones

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