Four roses drinking from a blue vase,
the first one I name Moment of Gladness,
the second, Wresting Beauty from Fear.
All year I watched my beloved disappearing, the sweet fat
of her hips, her laughter, her will,
as though a whelk had drilled through her shell,
sucked out the flesh. Death woke me each morning
with its bird impersonation. But now she has cut
these Clouds of Glory and a honeyed musk sublimes
from their petals, veined fine as an infant’s eyelids,
and spiraling like any embryo—fish, snake, or human—
and she has carried them to me, saturated
in the colors they have not swallowed,
the blush and gold, the razzle-dazzle red, riven
from the dirt to cleave here briefly.
And now, as though to signify our fortune,
a tiny insect journeys across the kingdom
of one ivory petal and into the heart
of the blossom. O, Small Mercies sliced
from the root. I listen
as they sip the blue water.

Ellen Bass’s most recent collection, Indigo, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2020. Her other poetry books include Like a Beggar, The Human Lineand Mules of Love. Her poems appear  frequently in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, and many other journals. Among her awards are Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, The NEA, and The California Arts Council, The Lambda Literary Award, and four Pushcart Prizes. She co-edited the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks!, and her nonfiction books include the groundbreaking 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. A Chancellor Emerita of the Academy of American Poets, Bass founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and the Santa Cruz, California jails, and teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University.


  1. Yes!! Let us wrest beauty from fear. In the Old Testament humans feared God. Lets Love God. Love beauty. Reject fear.
    Thanks for this.

  2. Such terrible beauty. As one who is mourning the death of a beloved, my heart is fed. Thanks.

  3. razzle dazzle red. this made my morning.

  4. beautiful poem. Ellen Bass’s most recent book is Indigo, just out this year – full of beauty and life.

  5. “Death woke me each morning with its bird impersonation.” This flips the bird as messenger of joy. Wonderfully embodied poem.

  6. The loneliness of the survivor and the remorse for that which is left unsaid

  7. I can enjoy the delicate four fragrances in my mind.

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