We come tiptoeing to your screen today for fear that the praise we want to lavish on Ellen Bass will scare you away or cause you not to trust us.
Trust us. In the following months, one or all of this poet’s poems will blow you away. You will be lifted above yourself and your day-to-day concerns to see a bigger picture of what life is. Ellen Bass is a quilter of words and phrases, stitching them together to make a finished piece of what really matters. She stands for loving what is and being sure to notice what surrounds the gift of your life.
In this season of travel, we wouldn’t want you to miss what she has seen and crafted for all of us to see in this astonishing work that is a miracle of observation, appreciation, celebration and, yes, genius too.
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 there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.
Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.
But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after—if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now—you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.
“Gate C22” appears in The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), a collection of poems by Ellen Bass.
Ellen Bass—poet, author, teacher—shares online readings of her poems on her website, ellenbass.com. Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies; her nonfiction books include The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins) which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages.