All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.

I found my heart had hardened. The sonnet was a monastery to thaw and retrieve it.

Our skeletons are constantly being remade. An osteoclast cell will resorb bone into its body, leaving behind a valley called a Howship Lacuna. An osteoblast arrives, filling in the lacuna with new bone, entrapping itself meanwhile and becoming an osteocyte, a chatterer. No one exactly knows what the osteocyte communicates within the confines of the cave it built, but it appears to speak for the needs of other cells and helps to dissolve bone when it’s time for more remodeling.

After I moved to a new neighborhood, I discovered a farmers market in a church parking lot at the bottom of a long hill. There were two booths of vegetables (the other booths were: quick breads, beef, soap, homemade marshmallows, and coffee). One booth offered beautiful bouquets of late-summer flowers. When the petals appeared ready to drop, I placed them between the pages of a toe-breaker pathophysiology textbook, and I noticed how interesting they looked against the illustrations and photographs of bone. I wanted to keep them together.

Winter is hard and dark and thoughtful and beautiful and sorrowful. I started walking the hills and the nearby river cliffs in winter. The trail along the river is bumpy with water constantly pushing up the asphalt, and sometimes the sidewalk ends in someone’s yard. When I’d return home, I’d wrap myself in a blanket, put rice in the cooker, and write a sonnet.

The Voyage of the Howship Lacuna is a crown sonnet, in which 25 individual sonnets are linked by a scheme in which the last line of a sonnet becomes the first line of the next, and the first line of the first sonnet is also the last line of the final one, thus completing the crown’s circle. The sonnets are written in the American form, whose only requirement is that each poem have 14 lines, but I’ve hewed a bit more closely to tradition, and each line is also 10 syllables (depending, in some cases, on one’s pronunciation).

The collages that accompany each sonnet are made of images of bone, bone marrow, and bone cells, pressed flowers, and chopped-up pathophys text.

The sonnets are linked by the themes of bone remodeling, winter, and prayer. I also wanted to explore the experience of being an infectious disease researcher during a pandemic and being so focused on helplessness and anger in the face of suffering that I became hardened to the experiences, lives, and fears of the people I cared about. It seemed the sonnet, with its longing to fall in love with anything and its grace in and toward all things, was the right way to do this.

All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.

1 – Osteoblast actively remodeling bone. Bone remodeling occurs on an ongoing basis throughout life, and it can also happen excessively or rapidly as part of some diseases.

I’ve started walking a long hill toward home
up from the river where cars shake the bridge
under which a coyote on All Saints
looked for her sisters and for my intent.
A cell trapped in bone built from its command
will look back and forth, begin to converse.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters 
in light that time makes of memory’s demand,
the same way I think of trapped cells in prayer
or wild dogs as scared as I in the dark,
winter’s painted ceiling, new and clotted.
In some conditions, bone will build too fast,
rush to heal and hasten to speak with words
intent on crying cage from jointed past.

2 – Osteocyte in Howship Lacuna. An osteocyte is a cell that nestles itself in a newly formed hollow—a Howship Lacuna—in bone, where it communicates with, and on behalf of, nearby cells.

Intent on crying cage from jointed past,
fibrils join, descent begets a scaffold.
Are all our pleading prayers about escape
as we wake sour-ankled from fleeing cares?
There are nights when the worst terror is space,
and comfort builds close cave in empty dawn.
A skull appears in the frosted window.
Caseharden: old word for a stony heart,
sonnet a monastery to get it back.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Progress is not a path but a return
to maze’s endless spiral and weary
stilled and scrabbling paradox, cold road
a circling trail toward inner equinox.

3 – Osteoclast resorbing bone. An osteoclast is a cell that begins the bone remodeling process by dissolving and drawing bone into its body.

A circling trail toward inner equinox
when memory tears away or blocks one’s path
is instant where lost time is overlaid
against the stony heart forgetting home.
A hardening that loses its way returns
quiescent, sleeping mute amid the form
transforming. Starved cells sip us to their cores.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Who says we are too drunk, cannot come back
to loss? Hollowed bone speaks soft and other.
Beams fall hallowed into holes. We are pocked
with silence speaking secrets to new night.
From valleys calmly dug in patient form:
a cell made other by its appetite.

4 – Active platelet. Platelets, or thrombocytes, are cells produced in bone marrow and responsible for blood clotting.

A cell made other by its appetite
will speak in secret sentiments, create
of cage unhindered room for crying out.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters,
all hindrances the damning averaging:
what we attempt, our core’s collective call.
My sister’s platelets are too meager, her
RBCs too large, ultrasound reveals
splenic artifact retreating and clear
revelation stalls. Alone, marrow stokes
its unharmonious brood in silence built
of pleasing variation amidst old
norm where not a one complies. Birth gathers
as bruised night draws the borders of its guise.

5 – Displaced thumb fracture. A break that completely dislocates the thumb is also known as a Bennett fracture.

As bruised night draws the borders of its guise,
a hinterland of imprecision lights
the shards of choice, borders I’ve determined.
How much of (re)creation is mistake?
How much abandoning of what was once
to be, pieces floating in some dark sea?
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
When I remove what seems like boundary
in service of some surgery, the cut
will balk. The shards know they belong. How much
of (re)creation is disbelonging?
What in that calm dark sea is prayer with no
quick words save what scatter to chastise, make
impossible to leave a piece behind?

6 – Sclerotic bone on skull. In diseases that cause softening of bone, weakened areas will sometimes be replaced by excessively rigid new bone.

Impossible to leave a piece behind.
We are all precious to another. Gifts
I carry—flashlight, knife—that carve the dark.
After heavy snow, when we might fall toward
slippery ground’s demand, I find a lesion.
Chrysanthemum, where boot and anger etched
a valley and breed of love is birthed of fear.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
I see him, he slips and halts, refuses
to go on and stomps and drives a circle
into snow, seeks ghost of earth, a compass.
We protect another’s tenuous bones.
We build from danger an uncovering,
a choice that reshapes harm to wellspring.

7 – Megakaryocyte. A megakaryocyte is a cell that produces platelets in the bone marrow, often shedding platelets from its body in strings and chains.

A choice that reshapes harm to wellspring
enamors chains of scar built into birth.
Cells, shed or stagnant, gather into chords
of some lost wave. The body’s orbit turns
against itself, asks void for completion.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
I saw a meteorite once described
as planet, unlucky one, that never
was. A body becomes another as
it fills its space. A body loses space
when it cedes piecemeal to composer. Hear:
in Howship Lacunae, valleys carved slick
smooth in bone, we call for what we never
were: silence waiting for a prayer interred.

8 – Bone marrow. Bone marrow is material located within the centers of some bones and serving to make new blood cells.

Were silence waiting for a prayer interred
we’d transform in the dark, new and clotted.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
The closed-in cell will look back and forth, start
to bely its trappings in some disguise
we name begging, as when the multitude
begotten billions in our capillaries
speak to marrow’s miracle and mineral
chance. To make millions on the earth is not
to know it well, nor is safety solid
intimacy surrendered to brave ally.
It’s underneath where revelation drops  
its grudge to wear the face of bone. Layers
past and silent reveal form’s cornerstone.

9 – Bones of the hip and thigh. The femur, or thigh bone, fits into a hollow at the hip called the acetabulum.

Past and silence reveal form’s cornerstone,
dredge clear knowledge from dream of underground.
I draw the hip, the acetabulum,
in pain. I draw a fall I’d thought had breached
the bone, soft spheres of fat and ovary,
to find skeleton all along, merely
bone, but also joint and drift, the junction
of a sure anomaly, its damage
a slow and raging wreck and one I’d drawn
repeatedly, pondering how one could shape
a bomb to bring apart the tender joins.
I saw my own sprain’s lean, its stumbling voice.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters
in injury’s foreign heal and smoldering choice.

10 – Vertebra. Vertebral bones make up the segmented bony spine.

In injury’s foreign heal and smoldering choice,
walls dissolve when they receive the missive
of one entombed, as lakes will guide the throats
of birds who make their homes in foreign slosh.
Water morphs the muck of how we tell what
formed us and our questions: where we might stray.
We lose ourselves and invent each other.
Progress only means you’d circled back home.
A cell trapped in bone will look back and forth,
start to converse and deliquesce with ease
the solid rest that disappears to heal.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.  
A stubborn gutting day by day reshapes
the words we use to build a new ordeal.

11 – Thigh bone with rheumatoid arthritis. Synovium is a material that lines some joints and allows greater flexibility and safety of movement.

The words we use to build a new ordeal
make soundings of a depth we find afraid,
an age where wind and wolf collide as threats
of our absorption fall from sky. It’s here,
we trapped, enforce our safe surrounds, timid
faces turned question-seeking to the ground.
An architecture will always emerge,
and will we call it beauty? A story
speaks in language not for us but instead
in murmur we call build or beg, a soft
captivity. Will we scatter quickly
all our forces that shatter in the dark?
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
We do not know the half of our etched marks.

12 – Osteoclasts. When ready to begin the remodeling process, an osteoclast will latch onto bone with a ruffled border that allows it to create a seal for breaking down and absorbing tissue.

We do not know the half of our etched marks.
Bones and bridges and buildings give to hold
complete in storms. Weakness forms a part
of every structure on this held-breath earth.
In whispers that construct of night a gaze,
all bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
I slipped on ice in a false spring.
Trabeculae, the inner lattice, broke
and shattered into fallen ceiling beams.
Marrow poured and pressed while solid bone held
firm, and swell of yellow sponge encased cried
against a stranger’s closeness on the train.
It was the first I knew of weakness’ way
in building language from an inner pain.

13 – Trabeculae and osteoblast. The trabeculae is an inner layer of bone that appears crystalline and surrounds the bone marrow.

In building language from an inner pain,
cells cue need unknown but for enclosure.
Progress means return, and home is seepage.
All bones are liquid in their births. Command
issued from osteoblast spurs a fluid
that can dissolve and grow anew at will.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
As mineral pours and slime becomes what we,
in all familiarity, are used
to calling hard internal core, old lie
that we degrade while yet alive breaks down.
We are new and different all the time while
yet alive, our bones in dissolution
calling home in warning to caseharden.

14 – Giant cell tumor of bone. A giant cell tumor of bone is a noncancerous, but often destructive and painful, tumor of unknown cause.

Calling home in warning to caseharden,
I want to build a cell of sonnet, heart
corralled, but tender seepage is the pulp
of rot and pain and softness too, a threat
that we might lessen, all we love a slide
into time’s swamps, despite old lie that we
degrade, despite the prayers of cells that lick
us liquid from lacunae. Dentist tries
to pull my mom’s long-suffering tooth and fails.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters
I pray in fury for emergency
availability across the bridge.
She’s fine, calls later from her home, my own
I build in begging for bone’s dignity.

15 – Chrondroblast. A chondroblast is a cell that forms protective cartilage around developing bone.

I build in begging for bone’s dignity
a snare for fate in any hollow space.
Urge to build will find itself imprisoned
inside the scaffolds it commands to drop
a painted ceiling, scattered now in air
like rutilated quartz, the lines that form
a forest, dark and pathless. Silence clots.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
What grows anew in bone or valley etched
engenders guard. Some cells will live as arms
wrapped round another, changing to become
unearthing of a past they don’t remember,
for if new cell knows itself as child or
protector matters little in time’s blur.

16 – Fibroblast. A fibroblast is a cell that helps to build collagen, a protein necessary for bone formation and healing.

Protector matters little in time’s blur
and in silent spaces knit from shatter.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Fibroblast in stillness is but spindle
loosing coils of a future built from swell.
Injury is the promise built in sleeping
cells whose bodies plot for future healing.
Time means nothing in the marrow, sudden
break or inward germ an expectation.
Bone meets what we call blighted accident
with a rushing welcome that’s been waiting.
Blast will form of body branch that reaches
toward a pain it also offers, tender
bridge that blurs the face of harm and mender.

17 – Callus on bone following a fracture. A callus is a soft mass of cells—often chondroblasts and fibroblasts—that will form on bone following a fracture.

Bridge that blurs the face of harm and mender
belies simplicity of peace in one
locked within the confines of lacuna.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Healing does not sway toward gladness. Mercy
stokes a flame to soften what will then hurt
in unfamiliar ways. Break occurs. Span
to past unity is lost. Antidote
to callous is itself in altered form,
the patch, the break and callus growing more
assured. If progress means to find one’s home,
then cells insist on prodigal in pain,
the poured-out past that nearly overwhelms,
return a shifting flame that lies in wait.

18 – Stem cells. Stem cells are cells produced in bone marrow that have the ability to become red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.

Return a shifting flame that lies in wait.
I walk back from the river where sun heats
my scalp from west and sirens shine from shore.
The train meets regular its schedule, tracks
airport runway through the trees, the city
nondescript as marrow’s fortune-telling.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Time is lost again. A woman was set
on fire by a man today just north
of here. The news says she lost her life, but
how is loss a place that’s possible? Cell
tries to understand a body rendered
other than haphazard grace. Time is lost.
What does it count, what walls are crying out?

19 – Osteoblast. An osteoblast is a cell that makes new bone within a Howship Lacuna, grouping together during bone remodeling to form a cellular blanket over the bone. An osteoblast becomes an osteocyte once trapped within the lacuna.

What does it count, what walls are crying out?
The middle way: a blast that marries past
and future in its prayers that grow a self.
I like this cell, the osteoclast, the one
that carves lacuna’s bowl by chanting bone
into its center then calls osteoblast
toward a home: captured berth consumption’s carved.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Blast entombed becomes changed cell, osteocyte
chatting toward the outstretched need of nearby
others with no words or tombs or bodies
quick-absorbed from hardness, now trespassing
chalice sipped and poured against the silence.

20 – Bone marrow vasculature. The bloodstream communicates with the bone marrow to demand new blood cells, and the bone marrow communicates with the bloodstream to demand nutrients like oxygen.

Chalice sipped and poured against the silence:
the nesting cell in bone once charmed away
by body demanding its becoming.
The little room where cell will find itself
alone and listening takes some months and up
to four, the space and span of winter’s hush.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
There is in this lacuna, its builder-
occupant, the sadness of a season,
separation keening for a wanted
warmth, wail only called by calm of ice, frost
heaped tangled into winding path of saint’s
stained story etching spirals into pane,
a different path each evening, nothing gained.

21 – Cartilage. Cartilage is the flexible tissue that covers bones where they meet at a joint.

A different path each evening, nothing gained.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters,
at least always liquid in potential.
If space for prayer, for keening, calling out
within the calm of ice is but a gush
coagulating, then winter and woe
and bone are simply seasons, and progress
means return, caseharden implies future
melting. Fluid finds its birth in blast, new
scalloped shell of bare lacuna, before
mineral marries hard to protein’s crossing,
bounds of matter erring on declaring
undefined, coil labyrinthine, monster
now hero wandering, now the cell enshrined.

22 – Developing blood cells in bone marrow. Bone marrow can change its structure over time and serves primarily as a factory, nursery, or storage space for blood and fat cells.

Now hero wandering, now the cell enshrined,
and here, close to end of crown, I hurry,
demand of line a finishing that wraps
its tail to center, gathers what I chopped
from textbook’s press of colors, late summer
unraveling into dark and desperate night
in Advent, ritual of December.
Petals atop microscopy, marrow’s
cornmeal blush against the shards of farmers
market flowers as I wade frost’s neat spines
and grapple with the question raised by line:
all bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
And home was the winding all along, the
spiral an answer begging to belong.

23 – Yellow bone marrow. Yellow bone marrow stores fat but can be called upon to make blood cells in an emergency.

Spiral an answer begging to belong
to tender bounds of family, and I stray
to solid, speak of hardness that dissolves
bone and melts into a heart of water,
strengthens with a call, connects to mineral.
Caseharden: old word for a stony heart.
Live bone that cries and morphs shouts if only
to wear down, hold the hungry self in space,
speak for nearby others’ needs, and withstand
one’s soothing transformations, imploring:
bear the icy heart and wait for mild melt.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
Hollows hum with rhythmic patient questions,
gird self made shattered firm in calcic welt.

24 – Red bone marrow. Red bone marrow makes and fosters stem cells that can develop into blood cells.

Gird self made shattered firm in calcic welt.
Sixth sense is mechanoclast transforming,
heeding call: dissolve the mineral walls, force
soft return to water. Resorbing cell
is dust itself. It is a lie, you see,
that we are lost or pounded down to naught,
a lie that we return, when sought-for home
is our identity, to leave the same.
In crystal pick-up sticks of bone’s heartland,
trabeculae will disappear piecemeal,
filled with dreams of rest and blast inconstant.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters
for silent cells whose borders bear the mark
in change they birthed from offerings of dark.

25 – Howship Lacuna. A Howship Lacuna is a valley in bone formed when an osteoclast resorbs bone tissue during the remodeling process.

In change we birthed from offerings of dark,
the sonnet ends. Night is dissipating.
My icy heart still bears a question: what
in this monastery has transformed it?
Up from the river where cars shake the bridge,
a skull appears, white paint on concrete post.
It peers with stony eyes at passersby,
but only if they’re looking down, and when
they’re not, it still keeps space, though silently,
in secret prayer for all that’s turned and tucked
in precious sleep beneath the osteal dome.
All bones are cathedrals, all cells cloisters.
The ice along the banks retreats as if
I’ve started walking a long hill toward home.