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Poet Ellen Bass says ‘Relax’ — you’ll lose your keys, hair and memory but you can still savor sweet fruit

BassLikeaBeggarplayRelax

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the dryer.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair, and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles in a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh, taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Photo by Irene Young

Photo by Irene Young

Like a Beggar” is the most recent poetry collection from Ellen Bass. Her previous books of poetry include “The Human Line” and “Mules of Love,” which won the Lambda Literacy Award. Bass also co-edited the feminist poetry anthology “No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women.” Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares and The Sun. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, a Fellowship from the California Arts Council and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Bass has also written several works of nonfiction, including “Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth,” “I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” and “The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.”

“Relax” from “Like a Beggar” by Ellen Bass. Published in 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.

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