Back to Issue Thirty-Six.





after a painting by Beverly Sky, 1989

She’s put pearl essence in the paint
so the snow catches the light
like snow. And because the pond
is covered in snow and clouds
streak above a copse of pine and fir, snow
is swirling over everything. We walked
out into that snow. Was it day or dusk?
I can’t tell from the mauve sky and the way
snow lightens the air. I remember the air
cold and fresh as spring water. It quenched
the roaring inside us. All day
I’d listened to the women as they
bared the memories incised on their bones.
Flecks of a stranger’s saliva
or a father’s cloudy semen stabbed into their blood.
All day the bruised child wove in and out
of the circle, hobbled, hobbling. Her body
cracked like firewood, the halves
falling away, the mind
splitting. When the selves begin
to speak, it’s like words ripped out of the throat.
But even with just these first freedoms
the heart revives and something essential
rivers into the thinnest capillaries.
Soon we will sit to fragrant
soup and bread. But first we walk out
and it seems the snow is falling upon the smokey
remains of abandoned
fires. And some god who cares
nothing for humans, for their young who emerge
slimey from the womb, hungry and helpless,
so crushable, even once they can hop on one foot
or play the flute. This god, though, has an eye
for beauty and lavishes it on these silver swirls
of snow, the dark green breath of the trees,
and the pond iced over and the sky iced over
and something gold flickering through the branches.



Ellen Bass’s most recent book, Indigo, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2020. Among her previous books are Like a BeggarThe Human Line, and Mules of Love. Among her honors are three Pushcart Prizes, The Lambda Literary Award, and Fellowships from the NEA and the California Arts Council. Bass founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and at the Santa Cruz County jails, and she teaches in the low-residency MFA program in writing at Pacific University. She is currently serving as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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