Ellen Bass

Deceiving the Gods
February 11, 2013 Bass Ellen

Deceiving the Gods


The old Jews rarely admitted good fortune.

And if they did, they’d quickly add kinehora—

let the evil eye not hear. What dummkopf

would think the spirits were on our side?

But even in a tropical paradise, laden

with sugar cane and coconut,

something like the shtetl’s wariness exists.

In Hawaii, I’m told, a fisherman

never spoke directly lest the gods

would arrive at the sea before him.

Instead he’d look to the sky,

the muscular clouds, and say,

I wonder if the leaves are falling in the uplands!

Let us go and gather leaves.

So, my love, today let’s not talk at all.

Let’s be like those couples

eating silently in restaurants,

barely a word the entire meal.

We pitied them, but now I see

they were always so much smarter than we are.

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.