“Red” and “With a Line from Homer”

poems by
PEGGY ELLSBERG | Professor + Poet

Photo by Volkan Olmez


IT was by subway, the Number
One train, Red line,
that she arrived, one fine morning
at herself. She was hearing for

the first time The Velvet Underground,
on a New York Station, under
ground, so red and blasting,
and it was like being born again,

and she came to herself,
as Plato promised
she would, at this very hour
as she discovered his adultery,

and she touched,
without flinching,
her own wet blood,
with a hard and gemlike flame.

Why is it always in the Underground,
or the Dark Wood, or the Middle
of the Journey, that we start to hear
the music for what it is—

muscular, hard, and pounding,
and she is Vampire Weekend,
In December, drinking horchata,
I look psychotic….

And so a truth outs itself,
first dark, like velvet,
then hot, like blood.
The music falls like beating wings.

And so she opens it, the vein–
and then she enters it, the tunnel–
and then she comes to it, the blood–
and she dips into it, and writes.


With a Line from Homer

PHILOSOPHICALLY-inclined beings
must be versed in many things.
I’ve even heard Heraclitus rehearse
this. Well, how’s this for verse:
Rage—Goddess, sing the rage—
sear it hot upon the page.
Volcanic ash, blistering heat.
Ruined heart, too hurt to beat.
Blistering hot, and then the night.
Crush it out. And then no light.
A small dark place with a charcoal smell,
a room in the darkest part of hell.
I bought a seat by the fire, so red,
next to you–in the wakeyard of the dead.

Peggy Ellsberg
Peggy Ellsberg has an MA and PhD from Harvard University, and serves as a professor of English at Barnard College in Manhattan. Peggy is also a poet who has published widely in journals and anthologies (The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Paris Review, Poet Lore, Salmagundi) and whose new collection RIDING OUT will be published later this year by Kattywompus Press. She has been a member of the advisory board of the Hudson Valley Writers' Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY for 25 years, and is co-editor of their poetry imprint, Slapering Hol Press. As a poet, she has been most inspired by her religious sensibilities, her three children, and her horses. As a scholar, she has spent a lifetime studying the relationship between spirit and word. She has published two books on the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ (Created to Praise, Oxford University Press; and The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins, Plough).