Ellen Bass’s ‘Relax’

Ellen Bass

  
Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press in June 2007. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973), has published several volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award.
 
Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, 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, and a Fellowship from the California Arts Council.
 
She is also co-author of Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins 1996) and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins 1988, 1994), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages. She teaches in many beautiful locations and at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
  
  
  
Relax
 
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 drier.
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 for a month.
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
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.
There’s a Buddhist 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 of 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.
  
  
First published by American Poetry Review (July/August 2010).
 
Visit Ellen’s website.
 
Order The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).
  
Order Mules of Love (BOA Editions Ltd, 2002).

2 thoughts on “Ellen Bass’s ‘Relax’

  1. Becky Cherriman

    What a wonderful poem, Ellen. I read it yesterday and had to come back for a second look. I love how The Buddhist story transforms the message of the piece and how we are left with the taste of the red berries.

  2. Pingback: Five things… | | The Rambling Fangirl

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