Poetry Friday: Ellen Bass’s “The Thing Is”

This poem by Ellen Bass was exactly what I needed to read this week. Maybe it will strike a chord with you, also.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, and obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Please be sure to visit Mary Lee at A(nother) Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

14 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Ellen Bass’s “The Thing Is”

  1. “The obesity of grief” is such a heavy line. When we carry grief, it’s so difficult to love life. Her ending lines are the thing to see…hope…”I will love you again.” Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Catherine, i hope whatever has weighed you down will subside some, and soon. I know this poem well. It was on the cover of a card that was with my Pen Woman colleague, Yolanda Tooley’s photograph on it. Unfortunately Yolanda has passed, and I don’t think these are still available. I do have a poster of it, not too large, which I would send you if you would want it. I will see if I can send a photo via email. The photo is black and white of a really intriguing and stark tree with out leaf, twisted, maybe from the desert. Grief has that soul-crushing weight to it. But life, well, it is worth living. Though I understand how hard depression must be.

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  3. Mary Lee says the pairing is with Heidi, but then I say Mary Lee’s, too. We have to find ourselves outside all the other stuff & find the good. Best wishes for you to do that, Catherine, when you feel ready.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. an obesity of grief…what an image. I feel it but not for anything specifically–which is weird. I miss pre-pandemic life but hate to whine about it. I’m alive, I’m healthy and grateful for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I first read that poem a dozen years ago and it made a big impression on me — never forgot it. Thanks for sharing it, Catherine. Here’s another Ellen Bass poem about finding the good in the difficult that you might like:
    from RELAX by Ellen Bass
    …There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
    When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
    and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
    And two mice — one white, one black — scurry out
    and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
    she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
    She looks up, down, at the mice.
    Then she eats the strawberry.
    So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
    in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
    slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
    and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
    Oh taste how sweet and tart
    the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
    crunch between your teeth.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “a plain face,
    no charming smile, no violet eyes”
    and sometimes yet uglier than that, even–
    a strained face,
    no smile at all, all violent eyes.


  7. Such a perfect description of grief, and choosing to love life again. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com


  8. Oh, this. Thank you, Catherine. I love this one. And “How can a body withstand this?” Yet somehow, we all almost always do. We almost always do. A wonderful podcast I just listened to from HOW TO LIVE A HAPPY LIFE Ep. 6 ” How to Live When You’re in Pain.” I highly recommend this. Much love. xo

    Liked by 1 person

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