‘Wishbone – A forked bone (the furcula) between the neck and breast of a bird. According to a popular custom, this bone from a cooked bird is broken by two people and the holder of the longer portion is then entitled to make a wish.’
Oxford English Dictionary
cry out from the city
where the long lines of cars
and the chugging of exhausts never ends.
It always 9am on a Monday and always the morning rush.
A woman with ruffled feathers is trapped in a lift going up
and down and up and down and up and down,
her image in her compact mirror setting
and sticking like hair spray.
A man wearing headphones
is convulsing like an electrocuted bird.
A manager is on the roof of a tower block
switching off his mobile before taking a final breath.
Oh city of flightless wingless birds how many wishes
have been tugged from your chests and left festering in backyards?
A man is flying now like a bird without a wishbone –
no lift, no ‘strengthening of the thoracic skeleton
to withstand the rigors of flight’.
“How can I help the wishless?”
The Lord of Desolation
“You must find the Wishbone
of the Lord of Desolation.”
I go through the fortress that guards
the mountain pass where the waterwheel
is turned by the river that turns time.
In the Land of Desolation wind
and sand scour the broken skeleton
of the Lord who is the desert land
and the scouring inseparable.
Each rib-bone is an archway
of the cathedral of a once mighty chest
from which the bellow of lungs has fled
to the tortuous winds and the heart
to a dull thud thud like a hammer
in the head slowly fault-lining
the small misshapen skull.
I look for the wishbone between
the neck and the breast – the furcula,
‘little fork’, fused to two scapulae
for stable flight, more lift when
the thoracic cavity is under stress.
The wish lifting the bird until the fall.
The wishbone is gone, stolen, leaving
the Lord wishless, fallen, desolate.
“There is nothing in the Land of Desolation.”
The Endless Scrapyard
The wind that exposed bones blows
back sand to reveal the endless scrapyard –
a sprawling conurbation of tyres, hubcaps,
headlights, broken wing mirrors, windscreens,
the ceaseless grind of the crushing machine.
I crawl over piles of pots, pans, sinks,
laptops, TVs, radios, catch my trouser leg on
an aerial, fighting not to be lulled to sleep
by the fishing forecast or driven mad
by the news or the canned laughter.
Ignoring messages on walkie-talkies,
not running from blaring sirens flashing
blue-and-red blue-and-red blue-and-red,
I reach the household waste and dig
down through the years throwing
away layers of plastic and styrofoam,
digging down to old shell middens and shards
of broken pottery, finding to my frustration
that all the wishbones have been stolen.
“Leave the scrapyard well alone.”
The Thieves of Wishes
I know, of course, where to find to them.
The circle is made whole – the centre
of wishlessness is in the bowels of the city
where brothels, slot machines, casinos,
temples to golden gods are found.
There, in the inner sanctum, they are gathered
around the Wishbone of the Lord of Desolation.
The floor is littered with broken wishbones,
empty bottles, dog ends, silver foil, faeces.
They are bare and empty skeletons arguing
over fake bank notes, gaming chips, the last line
of coke that gets blown off the table sending them
sniffing like desperate dogs amongst the debris.
All except the two who shot each other in the head.
Their skulls are shattered, jaws still jabbering.
White, obdurate, horrible, like a standing stone,
almost holy, it has resisted them completely.
“The thieves have stolen nothing but desolation
and broken everything except this wishbone.”
It is not hard to wrest it back from trembling
phalanges and evade their palsied gun shots as we fly
up, up, up, to where the thieves can never go.
I go through the city banging a pan,
driving the wishlessness from the wishless,
rousing them from their offices and pointing
them to the elevators that fly beyond the rooftops,
grabbing the flightless before they hit concrete,
granting them a set of wings and second life.
When we are assembled on a cloud at noon
around the Wishbone of the Lord of Desolation
the voice box of the wind announces the ceremony
is begun and the stars above nod their assent.
The bird-headed men and women play
xylophones crafted from the bones of their ancestors
and whistles that were once whistling beaks.
The wishless raise their voices recanting
every single wish they have never made remaking
them on the bone as to the exhortation of noise
it breaks and with a thrust of bony wings
the Lord of Desolation flies free and is gone.
3 thoughts on “The Wishbone of the Lord of Desolation”
This is quite exceptional Lorna!
I think this is a marvellous piece of work! Powerful and deep. Thank you!
If wishes could fly … as you make them do, then the Lord of Desolation will fly too, as your ceremony ensures that he does.
This is an ingenious piece of visionary writing, reconstructing common superstition about the wishbone at an altogether deeper level of significance.
I didn’t know the wishbone (furcula) aided flight, though it certainly aids yours here!