First Edition | Poetry

“First Edition” features original works by Northern California Jewish writers. In the first issue of each month, j. publishes a poem and an excerpt from a piece of new fiction.

Works may be submitted to [email protected] or [email protected]. Fiction excerpts may run to 2,500 words, but only 800 words will appear in the print edition, with the rest appearing online.


Bad things are going to happen.

Your tomatoes will grow a fungus

and your cat will get run over.

Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream

melting in the car and throw

your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.

Your husband will sleep

with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling

out of her blouse. Or your wife

will remember she’s a lesbian

and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat —

the one you never really liked — will contract a disease

that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth

every four hours for a month.

Your parents will die.

No matter how many vitamins you take,

how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,

your hair and your memory. If your daughter

doesn’t plug her heart

into every live socket she passes,

you’ll come home to find your son has emptied

your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,

and called the used appliance store for a pick up — drug money.

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.


photo/irene young

Ellen Bass’ poetry books include “The Human Line” (Copper Canyon Press) and “Mules of Love” (BOA Editions). Her poems have been published in the Atlantic, the Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, the Sun, the New Republic and many other journals. She lives in Santa Cruz and teaches in the MFA poetry program at Pacific University.