Since 1996 Volume XXI
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.
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
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
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.
Copyright, Ellen Bass.
All Rights Reserved.