Sonia's Poem of the Week #37
It takes confidence to be joyful in writing.
The ecstatic is a limb onto which you walk out. I love this poem for its frank ravishing, for its forthright delight in the body. "To Praise" could be considered a descendent of the blazon, a poetic form that catalogues the physical attributes of a body, usually female. Petrarch and Elizabethan poets wrote a lot of her eyes were like sapphires and her teeth were like pearls and her breasts were like ivory grapefruits and her eyelashes were like fluttering dollar bills type poems that broke down women's bodies into component parts and often equated them with objects of monetary value. Thankfully, writers have had better ideas since. "And clitoris, burning / like the sun in a Wyoming sky"—now that's a couplet. 

To Praise
By Ellen Bass

I want to praise bodies
nerves and synapses
the impulse that travels the spine
    like a Maserati

I want to praise the mouth
that lair where the tongue reclines
and the tongue, a bear
    roused in spring

I want to praise hands
those architects that create us anew
fingers, cartographers, revealing
    who can become
and palms, priestesses
    worshipping the long slow curve

I want to praise muscle
and the heart, that flamboyant champion
    with its insistent pelting like
    tropical rain

Hair, the sweep of it
    a breeze

and feet, arch taut
    stretching like cats

I want to praise the face, engraved
like a river bed; it breaks open like

Breasts, triumphant as
Handel's Messiah
  the nipples rising

and clitoris, burning
    like the sun in a Wyoming sky

I want to praise the love cries
sharp, brilliant as ice
and the roar that swells in the lungs
    like an avalanche

I want to praise the gush, the hot
spring thaw of it, the rivers
    wild with it

Bodies, our extravagant bodies
    how you have lavished
    yours upon mine

I read this poem in the anthology, A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-Five Years of Women's Poetry (Calyx Books 2002). If you're wondering about breasts triumphant as Handel's Messiah, you can listen here. If you'd like to feel better about the blazon, know that Shakespeare preferred "real girls" and have a giggle at Camille Guthrie's My Boyfriend, which praises "buttocks like a fleet antelope's" and "a penis like overnight mail."


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Sonia Feldman · 2529 Detroit Ave · Cleveland, OH 44113 · USA

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