750words Feb 12 2015 ~ Ellen Bass & Me & Two Odes

Because I’m stuck I’m writing words not mine to establish a pattern of sound and rhythm. The initial words belong to Ellen Bass, the poem is:

Ode to the God of Atheists

The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf or stained-glass windows.
It won’t insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don’t have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don’t have to sing.

The plums bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins stitch sky to sea.
Each pebble and fern, pond and fish
is yours whether or not you believe.

When fog is ripped away
just as a rust-red shadow slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you
for waking in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.

This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.


So, the above is the Ellen Bass poem. Now to come up with an appropriate subject other than the god of atheists … and not a god. I think I’ll run with a house. The house of (what?) … The house of love? The house of death? The house of loneliness? The house of happiness?

The House of Happiness

The house of happiness will make your face ache
and drum songs on your sternum. It’s not like the house
of sad, of lonely, of broken,
or wooded with coffins satin-lined.
It makes no promises nor expects
cartoon hearts to float from your eyes.
There are no window curtains, no locks on its doors.
You don’t have to knock your knuckles raw
or ring bloody bells.
You do need to step in.

The rooms are organza,
the decor is vanilla ice cream.
Each sofa and lamp, bed and bowl
is an apple or bon-bon treat.

When day becomes evening,
when lavender spokes wheel the dome of sky,
the house of happiness won’t begrudge you
for walking the shores of midnight, or returning
with sand-glittered feet.

This house welcomes what falls away,
the silica shine of journeys,
the nacre-blushed debris,
totems of chocolate.
Sleep the dreamed sleep
of lambs curled against ewes. Laugh
till stones burble songs down high mountains.
Tears, if they come, will spring.
This house welcomes you, welcomes every lost one.


Ok. It’s done. Unedited, but done for the moment–these words replacing a master poet’s words. Ellen Bass is fantastic. Not to be trifled with, not to be matched. Ode to the God of Atheists is a poem found in Like a Beggar — a book full of exquisite work. An apology seems in order:

Dear Ellen,
Forgive me for trespassing, wandering onto your property, taking the paths you’ve created and redecorating your lovely garden of words with different bouquets. Without permission or invitation, I’ve spent time with a blanket thrown down in your forest. Will it help if I mention Prayer, the poem gracing the back cover of Like a Beggar? The opening line: “Once I wore a dress liquid as vodka.” (Who can resist wanting more?) Will it help if I encourage every reader of this flimsy blog of mine to buy Like a Beggar? Such a feast, this book. Such a feast.

I have no excuse for my actions here, other than a desire to improve my skills as a wordsmith. Who better to follow than you? (Yes, Mary Oliver … but her books are not within reach at the moment.)

Respectfully, lynn


It’s a thing I do, this imitation of other writers. I’m never certain about the right or wrong of my efforts. I don’t want or mean to plagiarize. I try not to directly repeat the words of others. It’s the rhythm, the sounds, the abrupt change of directions, the use of similes and metaphors, adjectives, adverbs, etc. that I go for–or the absence of same. It’s the syllables, the beat, the simplicity or complexity of syntax, the story arc, the movement from A to B to C, the assonance, alliteration, the esses and efs and hisses, the magic of words a maestra has spellbound me with–and I just can’t seem to stop reaching for that.

Not Like Missing Socks (revisited)

I am drowning in years and buttons — grappling with broken
white threads of dresses, the loosed hems of horizons
teasing appliqués of bald mountains on their way to me . . .

Yet it could be the ocean that comes.  That line where water
meets sky and eyes cannot differentiate blues, grays,
and air is water, water air — until the sun, moon,
or some heavenly body hangs an angle of light
across the shoulders of passing day or the thigh
of lumbering night.

To keep my chin above days, I stack flat goods of florals
I will sew into aprons for others.  I stack wools
in their weaves of Pendleton plaids and the black
and red flannel lumberjack checkers for shirts
I will never make.  I manage toeholds in rolled gowns
and diplomas, use mortar boards for recycled steps.

In 1960 our Home Ec projects were hospital corners
for Perfect Beds, Boiling Water, Nail Filing 101,
Personal Hygiene, the Evils of Sex wheeled in
from a.v. — those audio-video geeks who would later
own Silicone Valley.

Out of tiny blue checks, I made a pincushion horse and gave her
a mane and tail of red yarn, backstitched a halter
and reins I held to ride across cutting tables, gallop
the chalk trays of pond-green boards, and swing
on the pulls of maps, lowering continents into 7th grade,
patches of the world, each in the shape of a scrap . . .

The buttons grew in number — the lost ones, the found ones,
the shanked, 4-holed, 2-holed, oval, square, round,
shell, bone, Czechoslovakian glass, wood, brass.
Grandmothers, aunts, mothers of friends, seamstresses,
doodlers with thread, et al, made me heiress to tins.

This sea of fasteners proved unable to hold a coat closed, a cuff
circling a wrist, or his pocket flap in place.  They are failed
buttons of happenstance, missing buttons of place.  I have
bobby-pinned back a part in the hours, sectioned minutes
to the right and the left, braided seconds and wound them
about my head, which I keep above tides of buttons, and wait
for the horizon to come — buttons all missing from shirts
and skirts worn by somebody somewhere somewhen.

[after reading Christopher Buckley’s “Cloud Journal” from Sky]

Who Would’ve Thought (revisited 1/2015)

Who would’ve thought a celeb like Sherwood would be felled by a bit of toothpick or that I would find Winesburg, Ohio bookmarked with a napkin embossed with white bells and May 7, 1966, the date Al said “I do” to me, marking the place I left off? Or that I would stumble across a quote from Heart of Darkness by Joe Conrad: “We live, as we dream, alone.”

Slick paperbacks pass through my hands. Cloth bounds and leather bounds. Brushed-velveteen covers pass through my hands to the shelf, back again, to the table next to my bed, to my lap, the shelf, the chair arm. I roll on my side in the night and wake in the morning with an indented line running like half an X, temple to chin, from the hard edge of a book.

Who would’ve thought I would dream as I live? C.S. Lewis would’ve. Would’ve said to me, if he knew me and could, “We read to know we are not alone.” I would’ve read less, loved more. I would’ve, if I had known.

[After reading an article on The Poetess in America by Annie Finch]

November 2013

The month is here, two dates like two fearless moths buzzing a white light inside a chenille robe of night. Listen. The silence. The moths ate the heat, dusted that god, and watt by watt darkness left baby day to yawn. My love, my impossible ghost, why do you come vacant-eyed, cotton pockets turned out with blue-linted seams the color of high sky? Heaven has altered your profile as life has altered mine. Gone is the bump and bend of your magnificent nose, Gallic, so adored traced by these fingers in the braille of afterglow. Remember White Horse? Remember McAllister? Narrow roads dead-ending in overlooks. Top down on your Chevy. Were the city lights stars and nights’ lights lit waiting rooms? You enter my house on the ocean’s edge, waver with unspoken words, exhaust understanding. I am unrecognizable. Pushed to tide’s extreme highs and tumbled as stones on the playa, what wings you once believed worn by this angel are gone, and the fingers of hands unable to hold, and the tongue. Please go. Return to one of night’s rooms. I want this infant day, the peony quiet and lavender prickles, shadowed nopal, nasturtiums vining, your profile as it was with mine turning, turning. Turning.


Day’s Green Blink


Anyone watching nearby her wood and iron bench

might think she focused on sun’s final dip,

hoped to catch the end flash of pistachio green,

not the silhouettes of awk and pelican

like weary guards roosting the rocks.


She is counting their heads—

five large and three small—

but two fly away while four jockey in

and the gulls won’t allow any much rest

with their endless careening and near wrecks.

She must start again from the northern tip.

This is the way she steadies internal swells and tides,

by counting what can’t be counted,

often blaming her chaos on what can’t be blamed.


Sometimes, numbers blurring near dusk, she looks for day’s green blink.

It is light’s mix of gold and blue,

a short hyphen between sea, sun and sky.

She tilts on the bench seat, her body a salute.

What briefly was, no longer is.  A nod,

acquiescence acknowledged with this turning earth,

these curious birds with ready wings at rest.

The Word of the Day


The word is nictitate, three syllables, new

and the meaning unexpected: to wink.  Stars wink.

Sun on rippled water and fireflies at twilight

looking for signals from fellow travelers

or happy solo in flight wink. The word asks

if anything inside me nictitates.


I take stock; moments pass, pulse tih-ticks,

swallowing makes a squeak of saliva muscled down

or ideas.  And mistakes, sins, the thrown spoon

and cracked glass, the betrayed friend

wanting understanding, some small touch

at the nape of his neck.  I know rage, the flash,

quiver, dazzle, and empty dusk. A house

with sockets but no bulbs.


I know the word knows my veins and chambers,

identifies his sagged expression among

neural byways, thoughts firing, sputtered bursts.

His face.  Flickers.  His heart, heartbeat reverberating

bones in my back.  Silence.



My laughter waits under the ceiling of ocean
where tides no longer push.
I wait and watch from the air.
It silenced when the children stopped coming,
when the last abuela died,
and I am an uncelebrated skeleton lady
because no one,
no one,
not one of the many survived.
The wheel is behind me.
The fires.
The eyes.


The duck is a decoy to draw me down
but his bill has worn off with coaxing
and wind. I look for laughter, not him.
I watch for what I have lost
with eyes I no longer have.
I feel for leg bones.
I do not care about my hair,
my cockeyed veil,
the weightless gold of flown life.


The bleached vertebra on the beach doesn’t care.
It belonged to a whale who washed ashore before
I began looking, before the wings
of body-less gaviotas gathered to fish without beaks
and the penis of Juan Jose slowly made itself known
out of sand to beckon me from my stance.
This I ignore.  In death as in life.
Without laughter, what good but grief?
I wait, watching from the air
for laughter to giggle down there.

The Sweater of the Man

The sweater of the man
was knit by the wife of his brother.
He sees ivory
needles in her white hands,
the camel cashmere trail of yarn
scaling her thigh, pooling
her lap, pulled knot by knot to climb
and wind in soft cables.
When dreams leave and sun comes,
the cables push her scent into his skin
and she holds him in ivory light.
She wakes with this vision, goes
to the window under the star
that will share luminescence
with him in the West.

Love (I)

Women were charmed and alive
as if secretly yours and if not already, soon.
It might be you never met a woman without merit;
I write as I remember.
Your admiration was quiet, kind
and steadily unconnected with beauty.
Forget my hurting heart.  I have.
Time excised the splinters.  You loved
as no other, lips on the honey of various hives,
and knew stars dimmed in daylight simply
because a greater star shone.
I’m here staring up at Venus, a hand’s span
from this little moon.  The Three Marias
hanging in night’s hallway of sky
echo my prayers for you, cold
flagstone a joy underfoot,
sadness an abstract
lost to dark matter.
A mammoth moth, you loved
with sleek strength
and mink softness,
not parasitically, but as a seed loves
the soil, expanding, reaching, becoming,
always becoming.
Tides rise and fall
and I love again and again.
Abandoned shells
shed their fuzzed exteriors
leaving white rooms to amaze.
This little moon will grow,
Venus sigh
and quiet.
Each day’s bright star will rise,
tides never forgetting their moon.
The waves will pass.  I will
walk in their spray and go,
not forgetting, not forgotten.
Waxing, waning, in company
with planets
or dark matter
I am.
Forgive me this life connected
with beauty, for feet on flagstone,
warmth behind eyes for no explicable cause,
that I continue to witness for you:
four new buds on the scentless rose,
silhouettes of pescadores in pangas
in morning mists, lullabies sung
by the constancy of stones, anger
with squirrels for dining on blooms,
a smile over signs of a spore that knew
the green of unfurling, sun’s rage,
this small moon tenderly curled, the rise
of hairs on my neck
when whispered endearments enter,
the spill of what resides, the tides,
oh the fall and rise
of these unending tides.
Salt air riffles shawl threads;
all that is
Forgive me this continuity.
I am a charm hung on life’s bracelet.
Like you
with the ladies,
I can’t do otherwise.
[After reading Pablo Neruda, Loves: Delia (II)]

Red Bud, 2007

In view from a desolate window
comes the red bud’s rotting leaves,

malnourished now.  One of 12 seedlings
slim as strings I could’ve knotted

end to end and used as floss
for embroidery of a landscape surely

less dismal than this.  A dozen years gone,
the tree sees me behind this glass

tarnished with rime, hoarfrost, frowns.
Arms branching a leaf or two on each

to spin like vaudeville plates on sticks.
At the base of the red bud—shattered leaves,

remains of what couldn’t hold.  At the base
of the wall, under the sill, shards:

veined wings, dead things, debris.
Some days are diamond.  Some days are

stone.  John Denver and Placido D.
and the wren whose feathers ruff

up where he bobs with his back to the wind,
pretending not to care how slim the twig,

how little the green, how sparse the rotting leaves
or that I will miss him, in my bones

through all the stones of my days,
through all the diamonds of being.