poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this Poem 

“’Waiting for Rain’ is from my forthcoming book, Like a Beggar. I’ve been noticing, in some poets I admire, what I’ve come to think of as the long-armed poem—a poem that reaches out and sweeps disparate, unexpected things into its net and yet the elements have enough magnetic attraction, enough resonance that the poem holds together. I wanted to try to do that with this poem so I could speak personally, intimately, while giving my feelings for my daughter a larger context.” —Ellen Bass

Waiting for Rain

Ellen Bass

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on

making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door

not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched

elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Bass. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 30, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Ellen Bass

by this poet

poem
The women in my family
strip the succulent
flesh from broiled chicken,
scrape the drumstick clean;
bite off the cartilage chew the gristle, 
crush the porous swellings
at the ends of each slender baton.
With strong molars
they split the tibia, sucking out
the dense marrow. 
They use up love, they swallow 
every
poem
Bring me your pain, love. Spread 
it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, 
warm eggs, cinnamon
and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me

the detail, the intricate embroidery 
on the collar, tiny shell buttons, 
the hem stitched the way you were taught,
pricking just a thread, almost invisible.

Unclasp it like jewels,