By Charlie Bondhus
When I looked over the table of contents in Divining Bones by Charlie Bondhus my prejudices against poetry concerning witchcraft and demonology started shutting down any openness my mind might have had. There are eight poems titled “Witchcraft and Demonology” and several concerning Baba Yaga, the Russian folkloric witch/goddess. But I glanced at the author’s biography and saw that he is an experienced, award winning writer and I’d better take a chance and read on. How lucky for me that I did.
This is one of the most imaginative, surprising, interesting and inspired collections I’ve seen lately. Mr. Bondhus writes poems that mystify while, somehow, making everything seem clear. He uses a little humor, a Russian witch pulled from folklore, sex – sex that is often explicit, references to demons and even the mundane stuff of everyday life to intrigue, entertain and, at the same time, bring some kind of enlightenment to our common condition.
Skill with language, a fine sense of craft and striking images fill every piece. Read this section out loud from “Guilt Keeps us Busy; Violence Makes Us Creative”:
a gun rack to store your hunting rifles
which were sprawled across the kitchen table
like centerfolds and I built a jungle gym
for the little boy who lives at the end
of the cul-de-sac.
This is a relationship poem which leaps from this kitchen to an appearance by Jesus and on to the perception of God as electric power, and then to an expression of longing for children never born. It’s a complicated poem and yet it blends high and low counterpoints to make sense of the whole.
The eight “Witchcraft and Demonology” poems are something like footnotes in the biography of the narrator. And the Baba Yaga poems, including “Portrait of My Mother as Baba Yaga” “Baba Yaga and the Child” “Portrait of My Husband as Baba Yaga” and the amazing “Self-Portrait as Baba Yaga” allow the author to inhabit this folk-character in ways that illuminate his own personality and his relationships with other people. Perhaps the best lines that exemplify this come from “Self-Portrait”:
Later I cruise Coney Island
in my mortar and pestle, but