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FORTUNE’S BONES by Marilyn Nelson Kirkus Star

FORTUNE’S BONES

The Manumission Requiem

By Marilyn Nelson

Age Range: 12 & up

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2004
ISBN: 1-932425-12-8

In 1798, Fortune, a slave owned by Dr. Preserved Porter, a bonesetter, died; rather than bury him, Dr. Porter rendered his corpse and preserved his bones for anatomical study. Nelson remembers and celebrates Fortune in this slim funeral mass, moving from grief to joy, envisioning Fortune’s moment of death as his deliverance from slavery to the ultimate freedom. As in Carver (2001), the poems of the cycle have multiple voices, from the doctor who owned the body but not the man within it, to Fortune himself and the enslaved wife who is forced to clean her husband’s bones. The central question—where does humanity reside?—receives thoughtful, fervent consideration: it’s a glorious reclamation of a man whose identity had been assailed from the moment of his birth to beyond his death. The poems are printed on the recto; facing them is an ongoing prose narrative of Fortune’s life and afterlife, punctuated by photos, illustrations, and archival materials. While at times these can distract, they cannot dim the incandescence of the poetry, or the keen-eyed glimpse into one small moment in the American “Peculiar Institution” it provides. (bibliography) (Poetry. 12+)