You’re the Top

Last night I get all the way to Ocean Street Extension, squinting through the windshield, wipers smearing the rain, lights of the oncoming cars half-blinding me. The baby’s in her seat in the back singing the first three words of You’re the Top. Not softly and sweetly the way she did when she woke in her crib, but belting it out like Ethel Merman. I don’t drive much at night anymore. And then the rain and the bad wipers. But I tell myself it’s too soon to give it up. Though the dark seems darker than I ever remember. And as I make the turn and head uphill, I can’t find the lines on the road. I start to panic. No! Yes—the lights! I flick them on and the world resolves. My god, I could have killed her. And I’ll think about that more later. But right now new galaxies are being birthed in my chest. There are no gods, but not everyone is cursed every moment. There are minutes, hours, sometimes even whole days when the earth is spinning 1.6 million miles around the sun and nothing tragic happens to you. I do not have to enter the land of everlasting sorrow. Every mistake I’ve made, every terrible decision—how I married the wrong man, hurt my child, didn’t go to Florence when she was dying—I take it all because the baby is commanding, “Sing, Nana.” And I sing, You’re the top. You’re the Coliseum, and the baby comes in right on cue.


Copyright © 2024 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“Guilt and regret are my familiars, and it’s a continual challenge to pry myself from their grip. This poem encounters a reprieve—a mercy strong enough to throw me into a delirious acceptance of all my past failures—for the moment. And if we write (and read) to be changed—and I do—then I trust that at least a trace of that acceptance will stay with me.”
—Ellen Bass