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About this poet

Ellen Bass was born in Philadelphia in 1947 and grew up in New Jersey. She received a BA from Goucher College and an MA in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. She later said that Anne Sexton “encouraged me to write more, to expand, to go deeper and wider. She breathed life back into the process. Without her, I might have given up.”

She is the author of eight poetry collections, the most recent of which is Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), which The New York Times notes “pulses with sex, humor and compassion.” Her other books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), Mules of Love (BOA Editions, 2002), and I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter (University of Massachusetts Press, 1973). She also worked with Florence Howe to edit the feminist poetry anthology No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973).

In addition to her poetry, Ellen Bass has written several works of nonfiction, including Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (Harper Perennial, 1996), which she cowrote with Kate Kaufman, and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Perennial Library, 1988), which she cowrote with Laura Davis and which has been translated into ten languages.

Bass was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017. She is the recipient of fellowships from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University and lives in Santa Cruz, California.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)
Mules of Love (BOA Editions, 2002)
Our Stunning Harvest: Poems (New Society Publishers, 1984)
Of Separateness & Merging (Autumn Press, 1977)
I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter (University of Massachusetts Press, 1973)

Prose
Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (Harper Perennial, 1996)
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Perennial Library, 1988)

To Zeke

O breathing drum, O cask of dark
waters, O decaying star, my
barking heart, my breaking brother,
what will seep into the space
your body leaves? O huge
eighteen-muscled ears, oscillating
ossicles and cochlea, your busy canals
now hollow caves of quiet. I have said
your fur is black, but you are
silvered, rimed with frost.
You are the new moon.
You are light in the dark house.
How long will I see your shadow?
O heavy hunk of existence, O great flank
I have rested my head upon
when I was too weak for human touch.
Sleek leading man, you debonair dog,
how people on the avenue stopped to swoon.
O splaying legs once faster than rabbits,
canines slashing flesh. Urgent thug,
unstoppable thrust. O happy snapping
at the wind. What do you remember
now that you are mud slide, glacier
melting, cliff collapsing into the sea?
I have memorized your milky breath,
your ballet leaps and whirly-gigging.
Your princely patience, as the children
dressed you—Soccer Zeke
in jersey and shorts, one paw on the ball.
Snorkel Zeke with mask and fins.
Bar Mitzvah Zeke in a yarmulke
and my father’s silk tallit. O my text
of decrepitude, my usher to death,
companion of ten thousand years,
I’ll fry you a fish. I’ll sit by your bowl.
Eat from my hand. I have nowhere to go.

Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of the poet.

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass is the author of Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood

poem

The pads of your paws scrabble
as I drag you from the tunnel
clamped to the shiny green trap,
a baby, hell-bent on saving
your twist of life, spun
from the same cells as I am, the common
intelligence of fins, wings, limbs.
The first time you see the sun
you’re splayed on your

poem

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’

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