Since 1996 Volume XXI
2017 & 2018
After dinner, we’re drinking scotch at
the kitchen table.
Ellen Bass’s most recent book is Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). Her poems appear frequently in The New Yorker and The American Poetry Review. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University.
It was in a house I'd never been to, a drug
I don't remember. His woman, my man—
and others—likewise occupied.
We'd come for that purpose. I took him
the way wind takes—
on its way someplace else.
Though we worked in the same South End brownstone
we'd never had a conversation. Nor did we then
when I eased down on him, slid
onto his stalk that was waiting
like a person for a bus.
When I heard he'd killed himself
of course I saw us, back then,
on the living room rug. I'm suspended
above him, propped on my gorgeous arms.
His eyes are the blue of oceans
with no land in sight.
What would have happened
if I'd gathered up the loose
pieces of him, like the change fallen
from our pockets, like the clothes
strewn around the room?
What would have happened if I'd
gathered those clothes
and held them up for him
as though he were weak from illness—
his shorts, first one leg
then the other; jeans,
step, step, as I would do later
with my own children, the T-shirt
guided down, head crowning.
Then each arm in a sleeve, their weight released,
they'd hang like the still warm bodies of game.
The socks I could have put on easily,
stretching each one and slipping it over the large
animals of his feet. Then zipping
the jacket closed like a scar.
Would it have changed anything
if I'd led him outside
and we'd walked through the city, gloved hands
in our pockets, and told each other everything—
the light snow falling, light
from the street lamps, the amber of weak tea,
the rose white of the sky?
-by Ellen Bass
from Mules of Love (BOA, 2002)
Copyright, Ellen Bass.