The bone music maker by Claudia Serea

The bone music maker is a bootlegger of jazz and rock and roll. His name is Sasha and he lives on Resurrection Street. Each week, he looks for X-rays in the hospital dumpsters and takes them home to turn them into records. The hospitals are full of sick people. The dumpsters overflow with X-rays. And banned music is nowhere to be found.

Sasha presses the music into the X-rays with a machine and cuts the disks with scissors. He burns a hole in the center with his cigarette and holds up the result to light: Elvis’s Heartbreak Hotel on the ribs. Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line on metatarsals and phalange. Miles Davis on pneumonia. Chuck Berry on the broken hip. Dizzy Gillespie on Uncle Misha’s brain tumor. Ready for the turntable for just 1 ruble.

They sound like voices through torrential rain, ghosts singing through static. Like music in fog, light years away. Piano and trumpets played by the bees. Rontgenizdat is criminal and everyone knows it. But students donate blood to get the money to buy bone music.

Someone must have ratted on Sasha. One day, the Komsomol music patrol raided the apartment and confiscated everything: the piles of X-rays, the records still unsold, even the manicure scissors and the cigarettes he smoked and used to burn the record holes. Some say Sasha hid in the empty coffin waiting for Uncle Misha in the dining room. Others say he went to prison, and another bone music maker took his place.

In any case, on Resurrection Street, on skulls, vertebrae, and femurs, the banned bone music lives on. And the bones shake, rattle, and roll.


Claudia Serea’s poems and translations have appeared in Field, New Letters, Gravel, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, and many others. She published four poetry collections, most recently Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, 2016). Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings in Rutherford, NJ, and she is a founding editor of National Translation Month.