The Bones of Us
J. Bradley. Artwork by Adam Scott Mazer. Yes Yes Books, $18 paperback (76p) 78-1-936919-27-7

The melding of poetry and pen and ink drawings in The Bones of Us produces a visceral poetic narrative that kicks the feet out from under the happily-ever-after fantasy. Poet J. Bradley and illustrator Adam Scott Mazer joined forces for YesYes Books. It took a Kickstarter Campaign and a lot of drive to bring this experimental project to the public. Bradley and Mazer’s collaboration is arranged in two parts over seventy-five pages and includes thirty-eight poems.

Mazer heightens Bradley’s urgent language with black and white illustrations reminiscent of Robert Crumb’s 1960-70s amped-up style and William Blake’s emotionally-charged seventeenth-century prints. Mazar also displays some of the macabre and bleak themes that Laurie Lipton has popularized: grinning skulls, souls in chaos, and intricate narrative scenes—definitely worth the time to really take in and revisit. For example, in “No More Merlot,” Mazar aptly accompanies the lines, “There are things about you I miss:/the rattle of your laugh, wine induced/courage. . .” with a chaotic scene of old photos and polaroids, scenes of past happy coupledom now in ruin.

The Bones of Us is fundamentally a story about love as it twists into hate and revenge, comprised of linked poems that hit close to home for those of us with exes. Bradley captures the self-loathing, wallowing, and angst of a broken heart with original images and metaphors. Potent imagery repeats throughout the book, accompanied by intuitive and symbolic illustrations: wedding rings, knives, guns, disease and destruction—images that will feel achingly familiar to many readers. In “Emphysema,” Bradley offers a shrewd metaphor for the physical sensation of loss:

Our pollution clings
to the walls of my
bedroom like a lung. Every
time the door wheezes and
coughs me out to the hallway,
I hope my sighs choke like canaries

When couples break up, it’s worse for the one who still lives in the same place. Bradley shares this universal truth as a way to commiserate with others who can relate to one of life’s bittersweet experiences. It should be noted that the experience hasn’t matured to the bittersweet stage in the pages of The Bones of Us. The speaker is just not there yet—there’s too much venom and tears to be spewed first.

Rage, loss and self-pity are balanced with poignant insight.  In poems like “Orient Express,” the ex-lover’s freckles are remembered dotingly, and in “Some Riot,” a three-part prose poem-like confessional, the speaker reveals his vulnerability in the lines:

It takes a weekend for you to
move out of our place, two
more days to turn in your key,
two months to fill out the
paperwork. We meet in
parking lots, you flaunt how
much you don’t miss me
by looking like a woman
I never knew.

The third section swings the vulnerability toward acerbic humor, “Facebook makes for a cheap private/detective. . .”  The undertone of longing and loss soften the harsher moments that could individually come across as vindictive, but as the poems and images play back and forth they astutely reflect the emotional landscape of a broken relationship.

The Bones of Us is confessional, with an impression of spontaneity and drawings you can imagine being scrawled in a journal filled with everything a person can’t really say to the person they once loved. This would be the perfect book for someone going through a fresh break up or those of us who are twenty years past it, but never quite over it. (March 2014)

Purchase The Bones of Us HERE.

Reviewer bio: Kim Loomis-Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington State, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly, and Hippocampus Magazine.Her recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project.  One of her poems is also featured on the Washington State Poet Laureate's blog at http://kathleenflenniken.com/blog/. She graduated with her MFA in May 2014.
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