At the Altar

By Eleanor Ross Taylor 1920–2011
That bag you packed me
when you sent me
to the universe—
camp after camp I’ve opened it
debating whether to unpack—
        Not yet, not yet—
Why did I feel so much in it
was dangerous on the playground,
too good for everyday,
feel those splendid fireworks
hazardous to institutions,
unmannerly to etiquette,
so that, time after time,
I found myself saying
       Not yet?
At each new place I faced it,
it suggested,
Here spread out your things,
put on this coat,
open this bottle—
       No, not yet . . .
sometimes throwing something out,
giving things away,
lightening my load. . . .
The more I pull out,
the more it seems, some days,
is left inside,
the heavier it is.
Sometimes I think this package
is almost a door
the opening of which
careening across heaven
could be fatal.
Some days now I wonder if I’ll ever
dare face my given garments—
permanently wrinkled,
surely out of date—
your travel-thought
wasting in its tissue, flesh-corrupt—
till I’ve absorbed it,
like those stitches that dissolve
in an incision
where something’s been removed.

Eleanor Ross Taylor, “At the Altar” from Captive Voices. Copyright © 2009 by Eleanor Ross Taylor. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: Captive Voices (Louisiana State University Press, 2009)

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Poet Eleanor Ross Taylor 1920–2011

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Eleanor Ross Taylor


Eleanor Ross Taylor was born in 1920 in Norwood, North Carolina, and graduated from Women’s College, now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in 1942.  While studying at Vanderbilt University, Caroline and Allen Tate introduced her to novelist Peter Taylor, whom she would marry in 1943. Her poetry has been described as elegiac, lyric and feminine; writer Erica Howsare explains, “The southernness of her background . . .

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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