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by Jeanne Rosen Sofen
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Ellen Bass

Cheetah

Even with my good binoculars
it’s a buff-colored smudge in the distance.
A smudge that pivots
so the outline of an ear
becomes visible, briefly,
before it’s consumed into the whole again.
That’s it. And yet
it’s as if the world unbuttoned her dress
and we can’t get enough
of looking. This is happiness—
without the freight of happiness. Only
the machinery of our eyes
working so hard to speed through
the air thick with dust and sun,
through the tall, tangled grasses.
We’re looking through a pin-prick
in the universe, bound
to any aperture, no matter how small,
glad to be swallowed completely. Hunger,
thirst, the need to pee
all disappear. We’re focusing
in now, our pupils opening. We’re way past
past regrets, failures, promises,
sunk deep
into that bit of tawny fur.


When You Return

Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.
Shards of the shattered vase will rise
and reassemble on the table.
Plastic raincoats will refold
into their flat envelopes. The egg,
bald yolk and its transparent halo,
slide back in the thin, calcium shell.
Curses will pour back into mouths,
letters unwrite themselves, words
siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair
will darken and become the feathers
of a black swan. Bullets will snap
back into their chambers, the powder
tamped tight in brass casings. Borders
will disappear from maps. Rust
revert to oxygen and time. The fire
return to the log, the log to the tree,
the white root curled up
in the unsplit seed. Birdsong will fly
into the lark's lungs, answers
become questions again.
When you return, sweaters will unravel
and wool grow on the sheep.
Rock will go home to mountain, gold
to vein. Wine crushed into the grape,
oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in
to the spider's belly. Night moths
tucked close into cocoons, ink drained
from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds
will be returned to coal, coal
to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light
to stars sucked back and back
into one timeless point, the way it was
before the world was born,
that fresh, that whole, nothing
broken, nothing torn apart.

Another Story

After dinner, we’re drinking scotch at the kitchen table.
Janet and I just watched a NOVA special
and we’re explaining to her mother
the age and size of the universe--
the hundred billion stars in the hundred billion galaxies.
Dotty lives at Dominican Oaks, making her way down the long hall.
How about the sun? she asks, a little famisht in the endlessness.
I gather up a cantaloupe, a lime, a cherry,
and start revolving this salad around the chicken carcass.
This is the best scotch I ever tasted, Dotty says.
even though we gave her the Maker’s Mark
while we’re drinking Glendronach.
We’re specks, I say.
Dotty’s glossy red fingernails clink against her glass.
It’s disgusting, she says.
What is? I ask her.
All of it, she says, and looks around as if she might
find in the sink a way to express it.
Then, Shopping for wedding dresses, she says.
I look at her, waiting for more.
Of course I think of her marriages,
the first husband who gambled his paycheck the week they were married
the second who wouldn’t allow her lesbian daughters in the house.
And my own husband with two PhD’s from Harvard
and not an atom of common sense.
They’re all dead now.
Along with her twin sister who everyone said was the beautiful one
and her oldest friend who shtupped Marlon Brando
in a car outside the Actors Studio.
And Dotty’s marching toward death, leaning on her walker.
And in zero time, we’re speeding behind her.
So I fill our cups again, this time giving Dotty the good stuff,
and I do the thing humans have always done
in the campfire’s yellow light. I tell another story.
The one when Janet and I were first lovers
and she found a baby bat in her chimney
and tucked it in her bra where it fell asleep between her breasts.
It wasn’t until we sat at the table and I poured her a drink
that the bat stirred. Then she opened her blouse
like an origami sky and the bat flew out, a dark star
in the staggering universe.

***

These poems will be included in Ellen's new book of poetry, Like A Beggar, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in February, 2014.

Ellen Bass has a new book of poetry, Like a Beggar, forthcoming in February, 2014 from Copper Canyon Press. Her previous books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press), named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle and Mules of Love (BOA Editions) which won the Lambda Literary Award. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday).

Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, 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.

Fiction
Helene Simkin Jara

Poetry
Len Anderson
Charles Atkinson
Ellen Bass
Killarney Clary
Helene Simkin Jara
Jake Young
Gary Young

Nonfiction
Wallace Baine

Artwork
Jeanne Rosen Sofen

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