This exquisite, heart-grabbing poem by Ellen Bass is from her dazzling new book of poetry, The Human Line. Some of you will recognize the name as the co-author, with Laura Davis,of The Courage to Heal… This exquisite poem was written by Ellen Bass. It’s from her new book of poetry, The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007) and reprinted with her permission.

Some of you non-poetry readers will recognize the name - she’s the co-author, along with Laura Davis, of the classic childhood sexual trauma survivors’ book, The Courage to Heal, that has served as a recovery guidepost for so many.

If You Knew
by Ellen Bass
from The Human Line. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

What if you knew you''d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line''s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn''t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won''t say Thank you, I don''t remember
they''re going to die.

A friend told me she''d been with her aunt.
They''d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt''s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon''s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?