Ellen Bass

Bosnia, Kentucky
January 20, 2012 Bass Ellen

Bosnia, Kentucky


Court documents say her name is Azra Bašic. In 1992, twin knives

strapped to the belt and boot of her Croatian uniform, she carved crosses


into the foreheads of Bosnian prisoners, slit a man’s throat,

made the others drink from the wound. I eat oatmeal and plums,


sip my coffee while I turn the pages of The Times

where customers at the Airport Market in Stanton, Kentucky discuss her arrest.


One man leans on a wooden chair, hand raised, palm up, smoke spiraling

from his cigarette. How do we go on? is always the question.


She bottle-fed a puppy, sunk a fence post, baked cakes for her friends’ birthdays,

swirling icing in buttery waves, writing their names in sugar.


She slept in Lucy Lohman’s living room. Lucy says if someone wanted to kill me,

I have no doubt she’d take the bullet. Azra says the first man she killed, it made her sick.


When the fighting broke out she fled with her son. After he died,

she was captured,  promised food, cigarettes. Thy will be done, The Bible says.


She watched a girl gang-raped and left to die. Then she sliced the penis off one of the

men, threw it in the sand. St. Teresa said, I only wish I could write with both hands,


so as not to forget one thing while I am saying another. Eli Vries, a neighbor says,

I don’t think she’s guilty of anything but being a human being.


One witness says she made him drink gasoline, then set fire to his hands and feet.

Pema Chodron says we’re all sailing in the same boat. Everyone trying to escape


from pain and escalating it. Azra moans in the night, waking the house up.

The trees say nothing. Hammurabi’s Code says an eye for an eye.


Neruda says to live with the eye held hideously open. Someone said,

to help us bear the wilderness within, but I don’t remember who.

Ellen Bass’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and The American Poetry Review. Her books include Like a Beggar,  The Human Line, and Mules of Love. She co-edited the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women and her nonfiction books include Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and The Courage to Heal. She has received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. two Pushcart Prizes, The Lambda Literary Award and many other honors. She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University.