Good Bones by Maggie Smith
By Norah Christianson
By Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
Maggie Smith was born in 1977 in Columbus, Ohio, where she still lives with her two children. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Ohio State University. Smith is a poet and freelance writer.
The poem “Good Bones” has been widely circulated on social media and read by an estimated one million people. In the poem, Maggie Smith is writing about keeping the realities of life’s ugliness from the children. It’s interesting that so many people have read and recommended this gloomy poem to others.
In May of 2020, the Wall Street Journal noted that the poem has gone viral after catastrophes such as the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the May 2017 suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester, U.K., the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, and the coronavirus pandemic.
I believe the poem is popular because we can relate to her list of horrors, we can relate to the reality she forces us to face. We’re used to inspirational poems, happy poems, love poems, melancholy poems. But this poem is a recognition of the way things really are. And though it’s certainly a doleful poem, I believe it’s comforting in the way a wake can be comforting. We’re all in this together, mourning together. And still, as she has the realtor say,
‘This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.”