When Skeletons Make Love

after a meditation by Susannah Carleton


When skeletons make love,

Do they look into each other’s eye

Sockets and see their own reflection?


Does the smell of cherry pie

Cooling by an open window

Remind them of red organs?


Do they exchange gifts of malas

Made of dried hair strung through

Cavities once filled with gold?


When skeletons make love,

Does it hurt the first time?

Do wives and husbands


Slowly wear each other down,

Grinding their love to a place

Where there is no bone?


Do they notice swooping bats,

Flying through their ribs

When they make love?


Do skeletons make love in an

Embrace that begins with the

Idea of my skull/your skull,


And ends not knowing whose

Skull is whose, and sometimes

With no skull at all,


Or with their lover’s skull

Where their pelvis had been

And their pelvis where


Their lover’s head once was?

Is this the essence of why they

Make love, these skeletons?


When skeletons make love,

Do they feel it is a piece of the

Old lost world returning?


Is it the part that is like running

Into one problem after another,

Buried in debt and broken


Machinery, body pains and

The ongoing anguish waiting to

Bring a person down


Or tangle them up?

When skeletons make love

Do they wish to be dead


Or just in bed, lights out,

Next to each other, panting,

Then relaxed breathing?


Does it matter that they are

Empty vessels of the evaporated

Fluids that contained them?


Do they receive food from

One another, only to ask,

“Where’s the water?”


When skeletons make love,

It is as unavoidable as an extinct

Tree, a shoulder blade,


Summoned from another


Blessed with the world’s trust.


When skeletons make love,

Do they see their jaw-words

As the antique discarding


Of the shaved dice of sex?

No more walking on top of this world

When skeletons make love.


I think of love as the child

Of skeletons the way a charnel

Ground must think about


The mystery of a world

Re-creating itself again and

Again as its offspring.


And what of those eagle claw

Fingers––what mesmerizes them

Now, when skeletons make love


To a sound like beer bottles

Across the river of pleasure’s

Sharp and colorless touch?


When skeletons make love,

Do they wish they could take

Back every minute wasted


Under the tin-roof of precedent

Required to suddenly understand

Exactly how inseparable they’d been?


Because all things are beautiful

And subject to that which adorns,

When skeletons make love


Sometimes it is with coal dust

And ash that the scaffolding

Of humanity is cloaked,


Sometimes with starfish and

Sand dollars or strands of

Seagrass or halos of kelp,


Sometimes it is with crystal-wrapped

Femurs, sometimes quartz or bullets

Embedded in a spine,


Some skeletons come to one

Another with feathers or ribbons

Tied to bones, some lashed tight


With rope or barbed wire

Around neck vertebrae,

Some attach silver, rubies,


Turquoise or jade to their bones,

Weave garlands of fresh flowers

Or bits of cloth or brass bells,


Stamps, coins or fur, perfumed oils,

Arnica or candles that lit them

Up and attracted moths,


For there is nothing to resist once

The eroded heart is gone––

Having peeled through its skins,


Leaving sorrow and doubt like snakes

In the costume room of angels,

They are free to cross any distance


That alive, was only a reflection

Of the closeness surging between them

When skeletons make love.


This was an intimacy grown from

Death––for they had never entirely

Approved of being human


Nor grief’s uncontrollably lonesome

Loss, its heavy and slow moonrises,

The coolness of tears.


They had forgotten to worry about

Fireballs of lightning striking them twice,

About pool table hid guns,


About the sadness of old things––

Beesmoke and all that goes awful

Wrong inside a person’s head.


This one had to be right about

Everything. That one was a witch.

Many rolled out the rocks in


Their head as soon as trouble

Even suggested itself on the horizon.

They could not choose their dreams.


When skeletons make love,

They find ways without words

To describe the acute feeling


Of being chosen by a stranger,

Even after the funeral. Certain

Kinds of love you can’t see,


Certain kinds of love require

The knowing strength of bone.

Certain kinds of love need


Exactly what you cannot give,

Certain kinds of love are nothing

More than not overdressed.


When skeletons make love, there is

No pride, too late for breakfast,

No insistent sordid quarrel,


No rudeness, shock, or blasphemy,

The monster they became.

The marrow of love is all there is,


Not the sense of one gradually has

Losing the ability to make out leaves,

The different slicknesses of rain,


The tantra that prepares a body for

What lies ahead, even those who die

Alone so none may track their spirit.


When skeletons make love,

It can be a subtle as a breeze,

As plain as two geese gently


Gliding toward one another

At red and purple dusk

On a smooth stretch of river,


As just as the great works of humanitarians

Mingling with the lowly and unsung,

Exploited, wounded and pushed aside.


When skeletons make love, it’s their way

Of saying to one another I bow down

To you, you made my life a living hell.


When skeletons make love, they

Laugh at us because they know

Everything’ll be alright.


When skeletons make love,

It’s only their bones that are dead

And scattered and behind them.


They can tell it’s death if one of

Them is too solemn. Insecurity is another

Way they can tell it’s death.


They cannot know how they will

Wake or if they’ll be there

When they wake.


They cannot help sharing what they

Had never shared and what

They believed could not be shared.


Neither are they diminished

By the sharpening of the perceptions

They have now, nor have they sadness.


When skeletons make love, it’s like

Coming around a curve in a mountain

Road and the road ahead not there.


When skeletons make love, it is

As though they were opening a big locked

Suitcase in which a pile of stories


In a child’s notebook had been written

And find the stories gone and so

They lock the suitcase again not believing


It could be possible for the stories to

Have vanished. It must be some ghastly

Joke, but unlocking the big suitcase


Once again they check it and after

Locking it they check again, knowing

That they were destroyed.


When skeletons make love, it’s as if

They are saying there’s nothing to do,

But we’ll do it, we’ll really do it.


They lay curled up in each other as if

Two tusks left during a rebellion on a trek across

A bitter, dry lake against the rose brown


Early morning color of the ground, lovely

For the unbelievable smoothness of

Their bones as the light grows stronger.


When skeletons make love, it is as

If they were writing in the sand the stories

That they’d lost just to write them down


And that even though lost they could

Write them again and again fully intact.

Not a sentence was missing.


When they made love, they would

Make love again, and say to one another

But not aloud, I’m with you, I’m your


Boy except when I’m your girl,

Changing from a girl into a boy

And back again, chin up, nothing


Can stop that and all the other

Loving decisions that are so easy

To make when you haven’t seen


How too many of them can turn out.

I don’t know, we’ll just be us, they say

When skeletons make love.


I’m going to make love to you forever,

They said at the end, both dead

And empty, but it was not over.



19 July-6 August 2006
Crestone, Aspen, Boulder, Colorado



[Published in Mantra Winds: Poems 2004-2010.
© 2010 by Jim Cohn.]



Mantra Winds
(MAP Publications, 2010)