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Since 1996 Volume XXI

Ellen Bass

2017 & 2018



Ellen Bass’s poetry includes Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon, 2014), The Human Line, and Mules of Love. Her poems have appeared frequently in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and and many other journals. She teaches in Pacific University’s MFA program.

Another Story

After dinner, we’re drinking scotch at the kitchen table.
Janet and I just watched a NOVA special
and we’re explaining to Dotty, her mother,
the age and size of the universe—
the hundred billion stars in the hundred billion galaxies.
How about the sun? she asks, a little famisht in the endlessness.
I gather up a cantaloupe, a lime, a cherry,
and start revolving this salad around the chicken carcass.
This is the best scotch I ever tasted, Dotty says.
even though we gave her the Maker’s Mark
while we’re drinking Glendronach. 
We’re specks, I say.
Dotty’s glossy red fingernails clink against her glass.
It’s disgusting, she says. 
What is? I ask her.
All of it, she says, and looks around as if she might
find in the sink a way to express it.
Then, Shopping for wedding dresses, she says.
I look at her, waiting for more.
Of course I think of her marriages,
the first husband who gambled his paycheck the week they were married,
the second who wouldn’t allow her lesbian daughters in the house.
And my own husband with two PhD’s from Harvard
and not an atom of common sense. 
They’re all dead now.
Along with her twin sister who everyone said was the beautiful one
and her oldest friend who shtupped Marlon Brando
in a car outside the Actors Studio.
And Dotty’s marching toward death, leaning on her walker.
And in zero time, we’re speeding behind her.
So I fill our cups again, this time giving Dotty the good stuff,
and I do the thing humans have always done
in the campfire’s yellow light. I tell another story.
The one when Janet and I were first lovers
and she found a baby bat in her chimney
and tucked it in her bra where it fell asleep between her breasts.
It wasn’t until we sat at the table and I poured her a drink
that the bat stirred. Then she opened her blouse
like an origami sky and the bat flew out, a dark star
in the staggering universe. 



Ellen Bass

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)





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