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by Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass has published several volumes of poetry.  In 2001 she won the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry.  Her last book of poetry, "Mules of Love" (BOA 2002) won the Lambda Literary Award.
She has also published several non-fiction books, including the best-selling "The Courage to Heal."
Her new book of poetry, "The Human Line", is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in June 2007.

Oł est le boulevard Saint Michel?
You pronounce the question carefully.
And when the native stops,
shifting her narrow sack of wine and baguettes,
lifting her manicured hand,
you feel a flicker of accomplishment.
But beyond that, all clarity dissolves,
for the woman in the expensive shoes
and suit exactly the soft gray
of clouds above the cathedral does not say
to the right, to the left, straight ahead,
phrases you memorized from tapes
as you drove around your hometown
or mumbled into a pocket Berlitz on the plane,
but relays something wholly unintelligible,
some version of: On the corner
he is a shop of jewels in a fountain
when the hotel arrives on short feet.
You listen hard, nodding,
as though your pleasant disposition,
your willingness to go
wherever she tells you,
will make her next words pop up
from this ocean of sound,
somewhat the way a dog hears its name
and the coveted syllable walk.
If you’re brave enough, or very nervous,
you may admit you don’t understand.
And though evening's coming on and
her family’s waiting, her husband lighting
another Gauloise, the children setting the table,
she repeats it again, another gesture
of her lovely hand, from which you glean
no more than you did the first time.
And as you thank her profusely
and set off full of groundless hope,
you think this must be how it is
with destiny: God explaining
and explaining what you must do,
and all you can make out is a few
unconnected phrases, a word or two, a wave
in what you pray is the right direction.

- Ellen Bass -


Ellen Bass' other odysseys:
'Some Practical Thoughts on Moving Through Writers Block'
'Two New Poems'

Ellen Bass' workshop:
Writing For Our Lives
odyssey index page 
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