For SigridSeven sisters are turned into doves, flyinto the night and blaze as the Pleiades.Daphne begs: destroy my beauty that has injured me.And so it transpires, her breasts tremblingunder thin bark, leaves sprouting from her hair,pale veined feet digging into the dirt.In the old myths, nymphs did it all the timeto escape the men who hunted them.But where were the gods, dear Sigrid,when your father savaged your human body?You had to transform yourself.You had to be patient. Determined.To swell that sliver of a girl into a tree.To wed your loveliness, year by year, to thispith and girth, cultivating heartwood and sapwood,thickening your magnificent trunk,spreading your arching branches, the richliving phloem pulling sugarsdown from the grand canopy of greenflesh you must carry over the earth. [End Page 251] And yet, you are never safelya tree, even bound in ring after ringof cambium, the desperatedendrochronology of your life.That’s what no one talks about—how you never stop trying to wringthe taste of oxygen from the air, how theordinary work of salvation never ends. [End Page 252]
Ellen Bass’s most recent book, Like a Beggar, was published in April 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. She was coeditor, along with Florence Howe, of the groundbreaking anthology No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women. Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including the New Yorker and the Atlantic, and she is a winner of a Lambda Literary Award, among other honors. She teaches in the low residency MFA program at Pacific University.