Tag Archives: ellen Bass

In Praise Of Four-Letter Words

An older woman in a long dress sits in the back corner of a sparsely furnished room while a man stands in the foreground wearing jeans and a plaid shirt with the sleeves folded up. He has a tattoo of a naked woman on his forearm.

© Chip Thomas

BY ELLEN BASS • DECEMBER 2004

We yell shit
when the egg carton slips
and the ivory globes
splatter on blue tile.
And when someone leaves you
bruised as a dropped pear, you spit
that fucker, fucking bastard, motherfucker.
And if you just got fired, the puppy
swallowed a two-inch nail, or
your daughter needs another surgery,
you might walk around murmuring
fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck
under your breath like reciting a rosary.

Cock and cunt — we spew them out
as though they were offal,
as though that vulnerable
bare skin of the penis, that swaying it does
like a slender reed in a pond, the vulva
with its delicate mauve or taupe
or cinnamon fluted petals were the worst
things we know. You’d think we despise
the way they slide together,
can’t bear all those nerves
bunched up close as angels
seething on the head of a pin.

And suck, our yes
to the universe, first hunger, whole
mammalian tribe of damp newborns
held in contempt for the urgent rooting,
the nubbly feel of the nipple in the mouth,
fine spray on the soft palate.

What does it mean
to bring another’s body
into our body, whether through our mouth
or that other mouth — to be taken in?
When life cracks us
like a broken tooth,
when it wears us down
like the tread of old tires,
when it creeps over us
like shower mold, isn’t this
what we cry for?

Maybe all that shouting
is shouting to God, to the universe,
to anyone who can hear us.
In lockdown within our own skins
we’re banging on the bars with tin spoons,
screaming in the only language strong
enough to convey the shock
of our shameful need. Fuck! —
we look around us in terrified amazement —
Goddamn! Goddamn! Holy shit!