Deceiving the Gods

Ellen Bass

The old Jews rarely admitted good fortune.

And if they did, they’d quickly add kinehora—

let the evil eye not hear. What dummkopf

would think the spirits were on our side?

But even in a tropical paradise, laden

with sugar cane and coconut,

something like the shtetl’s wariness exists.

In Hawaii, I’m told, a fisherman

never spoke directly lest the gods

would arrive at the sea before him.

Instead he’d look to the sky,

the muscular clouds, and say,

I wonder if the leaves are falling in the uplands!

Let us go and gather leaves.

So, my love, today let’s not talk at all.

Let’s be like those couples

eating silently in restaurants,

barely a word the entire meal.

We pitied them, but now I see

they were always so much smarter than we are.



Ellen Bass’ most recent book of poetry is The Human Line; her book Mules of Love won the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry. Among her awards are a Pushcart Prize, the Elliston Book Award, the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Larry Levis Prize, and New Letters Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, and Ploughshares.