Bass – Samples


Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.


Ellen Bass, 2013


Saturn’s Rings

Last night I saw the rings of Saturn
for the first time, that brilliant band
of icy crystals and dust. Mirrors
shepherding the light, collecting it
like pollen or manna
or pails of sweet clear water drawn
from the depths of an ancient well.
The gleam poured through my pupils
into this small, temporary body,
my wrinkled brain in its eggshell skull,
my tunneling blood, breasts that remember
the sting and flush of milk.
Saturn, its frozen rings fire-white,
reflecting the sun from a billion miles.
Maybe there’s a word in another language
for when distance dissolves into time.
How are we changed when we stand out
under the fat stars of summer,
our pores opening in the night?
The earth from Saturn is a pale blue orb,
smaller than the heart of whoever you love.
You don’t forget the poles of the earth
turning to slush,
you don’t forget the turtles
burning in the Gulf.
Burger King at the end of the street
is frying perfectly round patties,
the cows off I-5 stand ankle deep
in excrement. The television
spreads its blue wings over the window
of the house across from mine
where someone’s husband pressed a gun
against the ridged roof of his mouth.
This choreography of ruin, the world breaking
like glass under a microscope,
the way it doesn’t crack all at once,
but spreads out from the damaged cavities.
Still for a moment it all recedes.
The backyard potatoes swell quietly
buried beneath their canopy of leaves.
The wind rubs its hands through the trees.


Ellen Bass, 2014