In an online interview, Ellen Bass says that "poetry is the way I pay attention, appreciate, give praise, struggle, grieve, rage, and pray." Her poetry readily accomplishes all of that. She makes creative use of metaphor as she explores relationships of all kinds, including those of mankind to the environment.
The book opens with end-of-life poems about her mother. In "Sleeping in My Mother's Bed," Bass writes stark lines which evoke the knowledge that life is about to change:
lie in her bed
Like a fork on a folded napkin,
Perfectly still and alone.
With this perfect simile, Bass captures the isolating emotional state after her mother left by ambulance. Any one of us can picture the image of that fork left on the napkin. Bass invites the reader in, makes the scene immediate and real. Another example of her skill in doing this is the poem "Gate C22", where Bass writes about a couple embracing at an airport gate. She brings the reader into the scene as well as the other people in the airport.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman's middle-aged body,
her plaid bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold earrings, tilting our heads up.
I read those lines and I wanted to be that woman, I wanted to have that kind of attention lavished on me.
Bass makes good use of humor in many of her poems. In "Asking Directions in Paris" she writes of knowing just enough French to ask for directions when in Paris, but not enough to understand the response. I laughed aloud while reading this poem, and I quoted part of it on a recent visit to Spain, where I had a similar experience while trying to impress family members by speaking Spanish.
Their universal appeal makes these poems to read and re-read, and to share.