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Don’t Bare Your Soul!

by Joyce Carol Oates


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!


Joyce Carol Oates’s latest novel is American Appetites (Dutton). (1989)

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