Singular Bodies schwartz-cover AP2000.jpg

Singular Bodies by Ruth Schwartz


Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (2000)


This numinous, deep-hearted collection explores the redemptive quality of love -- and its ability to hold even the hardest facts of physical life, disability and death in its enormous arms. These are generous poems. They deliver that most amazing of gifts: a faith that can be trusted, because it is not blind. -- Alison Luterman

Ruth L. Schwartz' poems are passionate and compassionate engagements with the sensuous richness that is this living world. Her empathy reaches broadly into every terrain and being, enlarging our understanding of the body's hunger not for continuance only, but above all for connection. There is not a poem in this book that could not be called a love poem. -- Jane Hirshfield

We need poets like Ruth L. Schwartz to remind us to listen, look, and hear one another's truths. Deft, sensual, and fearless.... Singular Bodies is a book not to be denied. -- Allison Joseph, Judge, 2000 Anhinga Prize for Poetry

About Accordion Breathing and Dancing, also by Ruth L. Schwartz: What I like so much about Schwartz' work is the way she asks us to think. This is poetry that refuses to confess, that asks instead of tells … It is poetry about death, grief and loss that reminds us why we want to live, poetry that asks us to choose life. -- Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, The Lesbian Review of Books

Cover photo: Fire Island © Morgan Gwenwald

Hayward Shoreline

Beyond the sign "Reclaimed Waste
Unfit for Human Contact," the great
egrets wade, sifting their lives
through the thick gray-brown
shitty muck

These birds delicate-
ly jointed, long and slim,
white as milk, their yellow
beaks like lightning through
the water, flashing toward their lives
You look at these perfect birds,
this stinking muck, and something
has to change --
the birds grow monstrous, or the muck
turns beautiful

Worlds of insects rise
in pulsing waves,
then lower all their bodies like one hand
cupping the water


For Kenny Fries

Gravity: The pull of all bodies in the earth's sphere toward the earth's center. - Webster's New World Dictionary

In a room full of wheels
large as torsos, pairs of wheels
mounted on chairs like wings,
I sit on the floor surrounded
by spokes
and listen to you read about the shooting stars,
how, lying in Kevin's arms,
you named them for friends at first,
then ex-lovers, then, finally,
for crippling diseases.
Polio. Cerebral palsy. Spina bifida,
you called out to the falling
chunks of light.

When you finish reading,
the man next to you
moves his head and limbs
five ways.
His tongue is slow, his voice
almost unhearable.
How - did - it - come - out - of - you?
He means your story. How
did it come out of you?
One of his feet points like a dancer's
while his body jerks.

In a different world, you wrote,
those diseases could be perfect
names for stars.

But I wonder about this world,
about how we come out of our stories,
out of our bodies,
mangled constellations
tracing their light path,

how we ever chose this way
to study gravity,
wheeling limping leaping
through such black sky

Hieroglyphics on a Branch of Peach

For Shari

Once, a woman made love to me
through the slippery dark.
Her brother was dying, her sisters were shooting
heroin in the bathroom as she moved her tongue
like sadness on my skin, and I felt
how all the sweet explosions --
summer, orgasm, a ripe peach in the mouth --
connect unfailingly to the barren fields.

What we have learned about love in this life
can never be removed from us.
Not one minute pried
from any of the days --
and yet, there was a worm
which entered the live branch,

lived and ate and tunneled through
the wooden heart, and with its body wrote
new language
through the lost years.

So there must be another,
more convincing name for innocence,
the kind the body never lost,
the grace of stumbling
through an open door --

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Singular Bodies schwartz-cover AP2000.jpg