Ode To Invisibility
O loveliness. O lucky beauty. I wanted it and I couldn’t bear it. When I was a girl, before self-serve gas, as the attendant leaned over my windshield, I didn’t know where to look. I could feel his damp rag rubbing the glass between us. Or walking from the subway, even in my work boots and woolen babushka, all those slouched men plastered to the brick walls around the South End of Boston — I could feel them quicken, their mouths opening like baby birds’. I was too beautiful and never beautiful enough. Ironing my frizzy hair on the kitchen table. All the dark and bright creams to sculpt my cheekbones, musk dotted on my hot pulses, and that pink angora bikini that itched like desire as I laid myself down under the gold of a sky we didn’t yet fear. Hello, my pretty. Your ankles were elegant, your breasts such splendor men were blinded by their solar flare. These days, I’m more like my dog, who doesn’t peruse himself in the mirror, doesn’t notice the gray at his temples, though I think it makes him look a little like Cary Grant in Charade. I can trot along the shallow surf of Delray Beach in my mother-in-law’s oversize swimsuit, metallic bronze and stretched-out so it bulges like ginger root. On one side, that raucous ocean surging and plunging, on the other, the bathers gleaming with lotions and oils. I can be a friend to them all, even the magnificent young, their bodies fluid as the curl of a wave. I can wander up to any gilded boy, touch his gaudy bicep, lean in confidentially. I’m invisible as a star at noon, a grain of clear sand. It’s a grand time of life: not so close to the end that I can’t walk for miles along the pulpy shore, and not so far away that I can’t bear the splendid ugliness of this disguise.
When You Return
Fallen leaves will climb back into trees. Shards of the shattered vase will rise and reassemble on the table. Plastic raincoats will refold into their flat envelopes. The egg, bald yolk and its transparent halo, slide back in the thin, calcium shell. Curses will pour back into mouths, letters unwrite themselves, words siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair will darken and become the feathers of a black swan. Bullets will snap back into their chambers, the powder tamped tight in brass casings. Borders will disappear from maps. Rust revert to oxygen and time. The fire return to the log, the log to the tree, the white root curled up in the unsplit seed. Birdsong will fly into the lark’s lungs, answers become questions again. When you return, sweaters will unravel and wool grow on the sheep. Rock will go home to mountain, gold to vein. Wine crushed into the grape, oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in to the spider’s belly. Night moths tucked close into cocoons, ink drained from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds will be returned to coal, coal to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light to stars sucked back and back into one timeless point, the way it was before the world was born, that fresh, that whole, nothing broken, nothing torn apart.
From Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Reprinted by permission of the Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, coppercanyonpress.org.