Ellen Bass

Lightning Streak of White
September 19, 2021 Bass Ellen

Lightning Streak of White

for Florence Howe


Black streets, black sky with orchid clouds.
The tide of the day was out. Nothing more
would be carried in–not dreaded, not desired.
Sometimes there was rain, traffic lights streaked on the asphalt.
Sometimes it was spring, all the tiny leaves breaking
out of bud, pleated and tucked. The elevator,
someone with a dog or a bag of takeout, fogged with savory spices.
The doormen who knew me. The taxi. The plane.
The last time, when she begged me to come––
I can’t die without you––I couldn’t.
Nights I didn’t sleep, I’d pour a little scotch.
The deep pleasure, looking out into the dark
and the few lit windows. People
doing people things in their small frames.
Just as I was. Or rather, I wasn’t doing anything.
Time released its breath and before the next
there was a little pause. And I lived in that.
Like when you pull the tab on a zipper, the nothingness
between the teeth. She was alive.
Her heavy jewelry hanging in the closet.
Her many pairs of shoes and coats, handbags and umbrellas.
Her hair on the pillow, black with that lightning streak of white.

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.