The year is 2020. So far, the world has dealt with the glowing fires in Australia, the hyped-up threat of World War III, and the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter. Oh, and the coronavirus pandemic. It seems as if tragedies are happening all around us, and we are just waiting for the next wave of water to drown us. Given this time of uncertainty and sorrow, Maggie Smith’s discussion of attempting to conceal the harshness of reality from her children in “Good Bones,” seems especially relevant.
Upon first reading the poem, it seems obvious that Maggie Smith is the poster child of looking at things with her glass half empty, as she laments on the realities of the world we live in. She writes that “the world is at least fifty percent terrible,” yet she keeps that from her children. She then elaborates, saying that “for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird” and “for every loved child,” there is a child who has been “bagged” and “sunk in a lake.” Her ideas are indeed valid, yet I find myself naturally trying to justify every wrongdoing she mentions.
I find it interesting how Maggie Smith is trying to “sell” the world to her children. The way I see it, there are two ways to interpret this part of the poem. A cynic, like herself, might read this as her being manipulative. Is it best for her to let her kids be naive, waiting for them to be taken by surprise when they encounter the ultimate exposé of the world we live in? Won’t the truth break them? It is ironic because she says that for every good stranger, there is one that could break you, but if she is putting them in a position to be broken, what makes her any better than that stranger? The idea that Smith contributes to the harshness of the world is supported when she references that she has “shortened” her life in “a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways.” Maybe each mistake she has made has shortened her life, detracting from its value, with her falling victim to contributing to the horrors of the world. It would make sense that she wants to hide these mistakes from her children; after all, every parent wants to uphold their child’s idealistic image of their parent.
As the poem progresses, my optimistic self is satisfied after reading her final line, “you could make this place beautiful.” Smith is the realtor, trying to sell the world to her children. Personally, I view this as an attempt by her to not only inflict hope in her children but also in herself. She feels like she failed at making the world better, but her children can succeed. She has hope that her children will contribute to and become a part of a beautiful world, where every child is loved, every bird is fed, and life is long.
To her readers, concluding the poem by saying “you could make this place beautiful” is a call to action. Despite the cynical tone of the poem, this one line changes how I feel as I remove myself from the poem. Sure, half the world is bad, but I have the power to be part of the other half of the world. According to Maggie Smith, I can be the “kind stranger” rather than the one “who would break you.” I can leave the poem knowing that I have the potential to do good and make the world beautiful, and I intend to carry out my potential.