Home > Poetry > Don’t Bare Your Soul!
Published: Sun Oct 15 1989
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Don’t Bare Your Soul!

for Coleen Grissom

Don’t bare your soul to anyone, however gentle,
_     _solicitous, seductive, or wise!
Don’t do it! Don’t
_     _make that mistake!
Don’t bare your soul, and leave it to be scarified
_     _like a Formica-topped table!
Greasy and wrinkled like an old dollar bill!
Blown like dirty confetti along the pavement!

Remember the long letter you wrote in anguish and self-
_     _laceration, out of conscience unsparing as a steel
_     _comb, up half the night head packed in pain,
_     _and no answer ever came! None!
And the book inscribed IN DEEPEST LOVE you saw tossed
_     _amid family trash in the rear of a Honda hatchback,
_     _with that melancholy look of a book never once
_     _opened! And why should it have been opened,
_     _your soul so yearning and bared?

And the long dreamy talk you once had, hand folded
_     _into hand, feet clasping feet for warmth, pulse-
_     _beats in equilibrium as, at dusk, as dusk deepens,
_     _the interior darkness expands to meet the exterior,
_     and there is a breathless moment when both are equal—
_     that
came to nothing in the end—as you should
_     _have known!

So don’t bare your soul in intimacy, still less
_     _in company!
Don’t do it! Don’t
_     _make that mistake!
Don’t bless while being cursed!
Remember that Hell is memory with no power of alteration;
_     _remorse that is one-sided merely; shame a mirror
_     _showing only your face.
Don’t bare your soul to anyone, no matter who invites it!
No matter who whispers, I will love you forever—tell me
_     _all your secrets!
Don’t do it!
_     _And if you do it, don’t talk about it!
Not even to yourself!
And don’t write about it!
_     _Especially not that!

See what's inside AGNI 28

Joyce Carol Oates has published more than seventy books. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University. (updated 6/2010)

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