A Review of Matthew Borczon’s A Clock of Human Bones

Review by James H Duncan

Some poets write as a form of therapy to help them get through difficult times, but for other writers that’s just not enough. MatthewBorczon’s poetry reminds me more of the grim determination behind the carving of headstones, the creation of cold hard monuments for torturous memories and the remains buried beneath. I don’t know Matthew personally, but the raw poems in this collection don’t tell me that their existence has soothed his nightmares or bandaged his wounded existence.

I hope they do, if only in a small way, because the poems recount his time in a hospital in Afghanistan and the flood of amputations, blood, teeth, scars, hatred, and death he faced every single day, the kinds of thing that whittle a person away, leaving little left to carry home after a tour of duty. The poems are frightening and honest and hold nothing back. They make our comfortable existence far from such horrors a piteous and awkward thing.

He begins with his first day overseas, pulling staples from a prisoner’s amputated stump as

…the marine
standing guard
laughs out loud
at his pain
and my fear

Borczon shares poem after poem detailing his eroding ability to remain hopeful, to remain who he was before he flew overseas, falling asleep stained with blood and psychic pain that leaves not scars but seething open wounds where no one can see. He ends the collection with a one wish, one aching desire, which perhaps is the saddest line in the entire book.

I want
the ghosts
of the
dead soldiers
to carry
the ghosts
of the
far enough
away so
I can’t hear
their screams

There is no doubt in my mind that when the editors at Yellow Chair Press selected Borczon’s work for their 2015 chapbook competition, they made the right choice. These are harrowing poems that deserve our attention.  


  1. Thanks so much for the kind review. It does help some, little by little day by day

  2. I sure hope so. This is an eye-opening book of excellent poetry. Can't wait to read more of your work.

  3. They do not jostle each other;
    each marches straight ahead.
    They plunge through defenses
    without breaking ranks.
    (Joel 2:8)~


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