by Eleanor Berry
Venus of Urbino, Olympia—each successive version slips
farther indoors from the mythic landscape where Botticelli’s Venus sleeps.
In Hiratsuka’s Breakfast on the Bed, the reclining female is not nude,
though she appears so from a distance. Up close, one sees she’s wearing a slip.
From outside the frame, a maid comes bearing,
not a bouquet, but a stack
of pancakes. This sharp-boned model won’t eat all that. After coffee, she’ll slip
into a sheath or pencil skirt, pick up her
When, newlyweds, we rented our first flat in Toronto, I was still such a slip
of a girl that the next-door neighbor mistook
me for a minor.
Christmases with my husband’s family, he and I would slip
out of the noisy house, walk among the stones
in the graveyard down the street.
In my mother-in-law’s bird books, many pages are marked with slips
of paper, neatly penciled with notes on her
To stabilize the steep bank, we planted slips
of native shrubs—bare sticks that took root
Each spring they leaf out; each summer they bloom. Season slips
into season, year into year. We were the
youngest and looked
younger than our ages. Decades have slipped
by, and now we’re often surprised to find
ourselves the oldest.
Over eons, continents drift, crustal plates slip
and grind against each other. Geologists
measure their movements.
The lines of a poem are a seismograph of sorts, recording slips
of the tongue against the teeth and the roof
of the mouth—not mere
sound and motion, but the pressure behind them of all that seeks to slip
through the cracks in the form. Artists sign
their compositions—Tiziano Vecelli,
Edouard Manet, Yuki Hiratsuka—claiming them as their own even as they slip
from their hands, to be transformed in turn
by later artists’ visions
as movement succeeds movement, era slips
into era. Poets do likewise, as I, to bring
to an end this twenty-first-century
American twist on an ancient Persian form, let slip
my name, Eleanor Berry.
I love the wit, complexity and scope of this poem, the way it slides across eras and continents, embracing art history, geology, poetics, and personal history. I applaud the poet’s choice of the lovely and malleable “slip” as the repeating word. A gorgeous ghazal in every way.
Eleanor Berry moved to western Oregon from Wisconsin in 1994. A former teacher of writing and literature at Willamette University, Marquette University, and other colleges, she is a past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and of the Oregon Poetry Association. She has two books of poetry, Green November (Traprock Books, 2007) and No Constant Hues (Turnstone Books of Oregon, 2015). A chapbook, Only So Far, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag.