Monday, June 11, 2007

ellen bass

sometimes i carry poetry with me, little treasures for me to read during my travels or in moments that i find myself waiting for my name to be called or my number to come up. today i carry words on a crumpled piece of paper in my purse, words written by a brand-new poet (brand new for me). the poet's name is ellen bass and i've known of her for only a few days (thank you my dear kaveri). i read ellen's poems aloud and i read them silently to myself. i read them slowly. i read them carefully. i read her poems and every time i do, i cry.

if you do not know the writing of ms. ellen bass, then please allow me the honor to introduce you to her verse.

If You Knew

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

--Ellen Bass

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

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