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If You Knew

By Ellen Bass


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 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.



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