The more I read Ellen Bass, the more I love her work. Let’s start with this poem about not expecting applause. Though, as she says, would it hurt? What would happen if we did applaud, in some way, those small things, those essential things. Applause for the kiss goodbye, for not yelling when it was really hard not to yell, for holding your sh*t together on a bad day, for getting through loss and disappointment and loneliness.
Don’t Expect Applause
Tibetan Buddhist Maxim
by Ellen Bass
And yet, wouldn’t it be welcome
at the end of each ordinary day?
The audience could be small,
the theater modest. Folding chairs
in a church basement would do.
…Just a short earnest burst of applause
that you got up that morning
and, one way or the other,
made it through the day.
You soaped up in the steaming
shower, drank your Starbucks
in the car, and let the guy with the
Windex wipe your windshield
during the long red light at Broad Street.
Or maybe you were that guy,
not daring to light up
while you stood there because
everyone’s so down on smoke these days.
Or you kissed your wife
as she hurried out the door, even though
you were pretty sure she was
meeting her lover at the Flamingo Motel,
even though you wanted to grab her
by a hank of her sleek hair.
Maybe your son’s in jail.
Your daughter’s stopped eating.
And your husband’s still dead
this morning, just like he was
yesterday and the day before that.
And yet you put on your shoes
and take a walk, and when a neighbor
says Good morning, you say
Good morning back.
Would a round of applause be amiss?
Even if you weren’t good.
If you yelled at your kid,
poisoned the ants, drank too much
and said that really stupid thing
you promised yourself you wouldn’t say.
Even if you don’t deserve it.
In an interview Bass says:
“A lot of my life has been a shakedown toward humility.”
She goes on:
“I have definitely been humbled quite a lot. Poetry is such a good medium for coming to terms with expectations and disappointments. That is how we connect with other people. We need that. All of our suffering is not so different from each other’s. The first poem in Like a Beggar, begins: “Relax. Bad things are going to happen.” And it ends with eating a strawberry.”
There was an article by Laura Lippman that was getting shared a lot earlier this week, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. A lot of women have. If you read anything today, I recommend this: Fine Lines: Writing about Age. Because, what if we just ate what we wanted, and didn’t think about our pot bellies?
The article reminded me of the Ellen Bass poem, “Women Walking” which begins:
““I’m fat and I’m old and I’m going to die,” Dorianne says”
Later in the same poem:
I say, ” I’ve gained back the weight I lost, I’ve got my pot belly again.
Last week I asked Janet how much it mattered on a scale of one to ten.
She said seven. I thought she’d say two, or maybe three at most.
So I waited a few days and broached it again.
‘Maybe I’ll cut out desserts,’ I ventured, but she was reading about hive death
and raids on illegal aliens and lacing up her boots to go to work.”
This poem reminds me of the poem by Kaylin Haught which I’ve posted before. But here it is again:
God Says Yes To Me
by Kaylin Haught
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
What would happen if we were to just say yes to each other, applaud each other, love our potbellies, and what if we could just know that we are beautiful and that everyone else is beautiful, too? What if we were to collectively never think about our potbellies again? What if we were to just eat what we felt like eating, and called ourselves honey, and told ourselves to relax, cuz, yah, bad things are going to happen. But there are strawberries, too. I think we know it would change a lot of things. It would be radical.