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 books include Indigo, Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. She co-edited the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! Among her honors are Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Bass is also coauthor of The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies. She teaches in the Master of Fine Arts program at Pacific University. She is currently serving as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.