Ellen Bass's most recent book of poetry, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2007 and was named a Notable Book of 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973) and has published several volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award. Her work has been published in many journals and magazines including The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and The Kenyon Review. Among her awards for poetry are a Pushcart Prize, the Elliston Book Award, The Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod/Hardman, the Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review, the New Letters Prize, the Greensboro Award, the Chautaqua Poetry Prize, a Fellowship from the California Arts Council and a Fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her nonfiction books include Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies (HarperCollins, 1996), I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins, 1983) and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins, 1988, 2008) which has been translated into twelve languages. She teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University and at conferences and workshops nationally and internationally. www.ellenbass.com
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?
from The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)