Sink Your Fingers into the Darkness of my Fur

Up until this sore minute, you could turn the key, pivot away.

But mine is the only medicine now

wherever you go or follow.

The past is so far away, but it flickers,

then cleaves the night. The bones

of the past splinter between our teeth.

This is our life, love. Why did I think

it would be anything less than too much

of everything? I know you remember that cheap motel

on the coast where we drank red wine,

the sea flashing its gold scales as sun

soaked our skin. You said, This must be

what people mean when they say

I could die now. Now

we’re so much closer

to death than we were then. Who isn’t crushed,

stubbed out beneath a clumsy heel?

Who hasn’t stood at the open window,

sleepless, for the solace of the damp air?

I had to get old to carry both buckets

yoked on my shoulders. Sweet

and bitter waters I drink from.

Let me know you, ox you.

I want your scent in my hair.

I want your jokes.

Hang your kisses on all my branches, please.

Sink your fingers into the darkness of my fur.

 

More by Ellen Bass

Basket of Figs

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, the gold 
still hot from your body. Empty 
your basket of figs. Spill your wine.

That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, 
cradling it on my tongue like the slick 
seed of pomegranate. I would lift it

tenderly, as a great animal might 
carry a small one in the private 
cave of the mouth.

Eating the Bones

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 dark grain,
so at the end there's nothing left,
a scant pile of splinters
on the empty white plate.

Waiting for Rain

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.

Related Poems

V-Neck T-Shirt Sonnet

I love a white v-neck t-shirt
on you: two cotton strips racing
to a point they both arrived at: there
vigor barely contained, flaming hair,
collarless, fenced-in skin that shines.
Cool drop of hem, soft & lived-in,
so unlike my father, to bed you go,
flushed with fur in a rabbit’s burrow
or nest for a flightless bird, brooding. 
Let me be that endangered species,
huddled in the vessel of the inverted
triangle: gaped mouth of a great white
fish on the verge of striking, poised
to devour & feed on skin, on all. 

From the Desire Field

I don’t call it sleep anymore.
             I’ll risk losing something new instead—

like you lost your rosen moon, shook it loose.

But sometimes when I get my horns in a thing—
a wonder, a grief or a line of her—it is a sticky and ruined
             fruit to unfasten from,

despite my trembling.

Let me call my anxiety, desire, then.
Let me call it, a garden.

Maybe this is what Lorca meant
             when he said, verde que te quiero verde—

because when the shade of night comes,
I am a field of it, of any worry ready to flower in my chest.

My mind in the dark is una bestia, unfocused,
             hot. And if not yoked to exhaustion

beneath the hip and plow of my lover,
then I am another night wandering the desire field—

bewildered in its low green glow,

belling the meadow between midnight and morning.
Insomnia is like Spring that way—surprising
             and many petaled,

the kick and leap of gold grasshoppers at my brow.

I am struck in the witched hours of want—

I want her green life. Her inside me
in a green hour I can’t stop.
             Green vein in her throat green wing in my mouth

green thorn in my eye. I want her like a river goes, bending.
Green moving green, moving.

Fast as that, this is how it happens—
             soy una sonámbula.

And even though you said today you felt better,
and it is so late in this poem, is it okay to be clear,
             to say, I don’t feel good,

to ask you to tell me a story
about the sweet grass you planted—and tell it again
             or again—

until I can smell its sweet smoke,
             leave this thrashed field, and be smooth.

Desire [even in the time of the tyrant]

then i am sprawling in through me
then i am fastened into myself
into my points and my pulls
then i am spinning in rev, in stare
it is a stun and a shunning of this life
it is a slutting of this life
it is a spawning of this moment
i am a promise awake with knowing
a pull in a thread
sprawling
a sputtering
a stuttering
a slant
a song
a rising
a falling
a driving to the edge & waiting
a waiting for the edge to fall
an edging closer to the fall
a wanting the fall to crush
and now i am in the fall
i am the fall
i thank the desire
i kiss the desire
i hold the desire
i thumb the desire
i bite the desire
i thrust the desire
i grind the desire
i rub the desire
it is without oars
& sitting
lulling
circling in a pond
it is the wind tracing
the feet of the kicking beneath that surface
the earth beneath sucking & sucking
that filling of the mouth
that shattering of time
i am bringing myself to a standstill
i am allowing the water to spread
i am afloat in the desire
the desire of me
of you
i am pinning myself to the surface
waiting for the moon to fall
longing for the pierce of stars
tonguing the night
brushing away the darkness
til there is light
around
beneath
inside
til my eyes
open
to the white
of the sky