Ellen Bass - Teaching - With Dorianne Laux Previous1 | 2 | 3 Next — Home


Ellen regularly teaches at Esalen in Big Sur along with poets Dorianne Laux and Joe Millar. Their 8th Annual Poetry Workshop, Writing and Knowing, takes place July 22-27, 2012.

Ellen and Dorianne





Women Walking

"I'm fat and I'm old and I'm going to die," Dorianne says
as we're taking our after dinner walk on the grounds of Esalen
which are gorgeous, but not very big, so we tromp back and forth
up the back entrance road, past the parked cars and the compost pile
where we turn around and start back again.

Dorianne's smoking American Spirits
with an Indian in a feathered headdress on the pale green box,
packaged to make you feel they're organic, connected to the native tradition,
bits of tobacco in a soft leather pouch offered to the gods
to ward off something—maybe the exact thing she's feeling now.

We're crossing over the arched wooden bridge, the river running under us
past a round redwood meditation hall neither of us has ever entered.
"I took a shower," she says, "and as I was drying I looked in the mirror.
Wouldn't it be enough to be just fator just old ordying?"
We're passing through the garden now.

There's a virtual wall of sunflowers, each magnificent
full seeded head fringed with yellow flames,
and on the wide lawn ahead the yoga class unfurls their arms toward the sun.
The aroma of whole wheat bread baking mixes with the scent of salt and kelp.
I say, " I've gained back the weight I lost, I've got my pot belly again.

Last week I asked Janet how much it mattered on a scale of one to ten.
She said seven. I thought she'd say two, or maybe three at most.
So I waited a few days and broached it again.
'Maybe I'll cut out desserts,' I ventured, but she was reading about hive death
and raids on illegal aliens and lacing up her boots to go to work."

We're headed toward the baths. You're not allowed to smoke
past the bench halfway down, so Dorianne grinds her cigarette into the dirt
and shreds it as we stride along. When we get to the bottom of the incline,
we can smell the sulphurous fumes, the hot bliss I now connect with sinking
into those stone tubs, but we turn right around and head back up.

There are so many things to feel bad about, just in our two families alone,
but we don't talk about them now. I've cried so much this past year,
I just can't cry anymore. We're crossing the bridge again.
Someone has planted succulents along the edge of a stump
like a ribbon of green petaled roses. Dorianne lights another cigarette

with a Bic she slips from her pocket. "I stole this," she says, "from the 7/11."
"Oh," I say, "do you do that a lot?" She takes out a smaller Bic.
"This one I bought. My hair looks terrible, even though I washed it."
"I read," I tell her, "the average woman has 12.5 miles of hair."
"We get nervous with silence," she says.

"Mostly we talk just to reassure each other."
"Yea," I say, "I'm not going to eat you. Don't eat me."
Dorianne slips her hand through my arm. There's not a star visible in the sky.
The fog's come in so thick we can barely see the tops of the cypress.

We've passed the compost again and are headed back down.
"Do you want to soak in the baths?" I ask. "No," she says,
"Joe's been down there already and he'll be back soon."
We're standing outside her door. She says, "To me, your belly is only a two."
"Probably not even that," I say and kiss her and go to my room.

--published in American Poetry Review

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