Ellen Bass
Women Walking

“I’m fat and I’m old and I’m going to die,” Dorianne says

as we’re taking our after dinner walk on the grounds of the Esalen Institute

which are gorgeous, but not very big, so we tromp back and forth

up the back entrance road, past the parked cars and the compost pile

where we turn around and start back again.


Dorianne’s smoking American Spirits

with an Indian in a feathered headdress on the pale green box,

packaged to make you feel they’re organic, connected to the native tradition,

bits of tobacco in a soft leather pouch offered to the gods

to ward off something—maybe the exact thing she’s feeling now.


We’re crossing over the arched wooden bridge, the river running under us

past a round redwood meditation hall neither of us has ever entered.

“I took a shower,” she says, “and as I was drying I looked in the mirror.

Wouldn’t it be enough to be just fat or just old or dying?”

We’re passing through the garden now.


There’s a virtual wall of sunflowers, each magnificent

full seeded head fringed with yellow flames,

and on the wide lawn ahead the yoga class unfurls their arms toward the sun.

The aroma of whole wheat bread baking mixes with the scent of salt and kelp.

I say, ” I’ve gained back the weight I lost, I’ve got my pot belly again.


Last week I asked Janet how much it mattered on a scale of one to ten.

She said seven. I thought she’d say two, or maybe three at most.

So I waited a few days and broached it again.

‘Maybe I’ll cut out desserts,’ I ventured, but she was reading about hive death

and raids on illegal aliens and lacing up her boots to go to work.”


We’re headed toward the baths. You’re not allowed to smoke

past the bench halfway down, so Dorianne grinds her cigarette into the dirt

and shreds it as we stride along. When we get to the bottom of the incline,

we can smell the sulphurous fumes, the hot bliss I now connect with sinking

into those stone tubs, but we turn right around and head back up.


There are so many things to feel bad about, just in our two families alone,

but we don’t talk about them now. I’ve cried so much this past year,

I just can’t cry anymore. We’re crossing the bridge again.

Someone has planted succulents along the edge of a stump

like a ribbon of green petaled roses. Dorianne lights another cigarette


with a Bic she slips from her pocket. “I stole this,” she says, “from the 7/11.”

“Oh,” I say, “do you do that a lot?” She takes out a smaller Bic.

“This one I bought. My hair looks terrible, even though I washed it.”

“I read,” I tell her, “the average woman has 12.5 miles of hair.”

“We get nervous with silence,” she says.


“Mostly we talk just to reassure each other.”

“Yea,” I say, “I’m not going to eat you. Don’t eat me.”

Dorianne slips her hand through my arm. There’s not a star visible in the sky.

The fog’s come in so thick we can barely see the tops of the cypress.


We’ve passed the compost again and are headed back down.

“Do you want to soak in the baths?” I ask. “No,” she says,

“Joe’s been down there already and he’ll be back soon.”

We’re standing outside her door. She says, “To me, your belly is only a two.”

“Probably not even that,” I say and kiss her and go to my room.

Found In Volume 38, No. 01
Read Issue
  • ellen bass
Ellen Bass
About the Author

Ellen Bass’s books include Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon, 2014), The Human Line, and Mules of Love. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973).