Room 71 • Poetry Hotel
Six Poems / Judy Bebelaar
A country song echoes through the warehouse,
cedar and summer dust.
The words unintelligible, but the tempo nostalgia,
melody in the minor key of longing.
At seventeen, riding out Refinery Road to Avon,
past the slough, the railroad tracks
or Franklin Canyon,
low-slung oaks tracing desire’s deliberate turns.
a September sky holding fall.
Now I sit in this red truck waiting;
you in the dark loft
draw out the best pieces of Alaskan yellow,
and the slide of wood on wood sings too.
We stack the eight quarter-planks on the rack
in rhythm, climb in.
I’m old enough to have learned
how things can change in a beat.
In the truck I slide close,
You open the window to the tune’s fading drift.
FALLEN LEAF LAKE
I make coffee, put biscuits in a sack,
crackers for the minnow trap
while Alan goes to get the tackle box, the poles.
The lake is smooth, floating spoons of light.
We climb down the hillside to the dock,
step into the borrowed boat
and head out, a knife
cutting the morning silence.
Toward Cathedral Peak,
gleaming necks like feathered arrows,
sleek green Mergansers slice into water for prey.
Alan casts the other way.
But from afar,
one duck catches the glitter of the wriggling bait.
And in a terrible flash,
its feathered beauty is caught on the hook.
He reels the bird in, carefully
pulls the flapping struggling wild thing
into the boat, cradling it in one arm and
reaches needle-nosed pliers down the long throat.
I hold my breath.
Can’t pull the hook out without doing more damage—
his voice full of gravel or tears.
He cuts the line as close to the hook as he can
and releases the terrified creature
which dives, then rises up
and flies toward Mt. Tallac,
the quiet of the morning
in its wake.
MEDITATION ON DARKNESS
Ambient light makes stars and planets disappear,
though they are still travelling the old sky roads,
carrying their rocks—
some with circling moons over their shoulders.
Dark matter is beautiful and dangerous.
It is not in baryonic clouds.
It is not antimatter.
Though invisible to us,
dark matter composes nearly everything;
all that we here can touch or see,
only a fraction of the universe.
Is darkness those instincts we call animal:
Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub,
the perverse desire in those three bored boys
who wanted to see someone die?
Or the Jim Jones order to kill the children, babies first?
What I really wanted to write about was
the beauty of dark far from the city
full of crickets, swimming stars,
and sleep, that other form of dark that matters,
how it heals us,
makes us think in metaphors,
lights up the paths in our heads,
and helps us find the way,
or lose it for a while.
Last night, in my dream, crystal wine glasses,
showers of them, spilling down,
into a bottomless well.
In our bed, I woke again,
to the buzzing, anxious dark.
Maybe it’s just these days, the heavy fog
of helplessness weighing us down.
Or the memory of last night,
my husband filling the kitchen with angry arrows,
all aimed at me, I thought.
Maybe part of the dark flurry
were darts of my own stifled anger, at him.
Maybe some of the barbs were remnants of fury
at the man with the strange pompadour
and his endless fantastic in the midst of a crisis
he can’t seem to see.
And now this morning, gloomy still,
and still last night’s anger
hanging in the silence as we drink coffee.
Then it condenses as words,
from both of us.
Then silence again.
But he takes my hug, at first stiffly,
then returns it, gives in a little,
letting one arm linger around my shoulders
and goes out.
Soon, the hammer’s crack crack crack
as he works on the new back stairs
and the sharp clean smell of the cedar shingles
reminds me of what I should have said
instead. Now I feel like the mean one.
Last week the back door opened
to a three-foot drop, dirt clods
and piles of lumber.
He just kept going out to work,
knowing exactly what tool,
screw or nail to use:
maybe a marlin spike,
maybe a drift, knowing
exactly what’s level
and what’s not.
I envy him, wish I had his steady way.
I hesitate, procrastinate,
and when I finally face it and try,
I can’t make up my mind.
Which thing is both like and unlike?
Which word has the right tension, right sound?
How many thousands of times
have I clicked on tools/thesaurus?
How many hours spent online
looking for a bird, for abracadabra,
for the names of clouds, dark matter,
of our current scourge?
Too often, I’ve given up, put it on the back burner,
stored everything in the Dropbox
where poetry lives
and poems die from neglect.
But as the power saw whirls and whines its high-pitched song,
I think maybe I’ll try hammering away
at what’s impossible to say.
Maybe I’ll drop some wine glasses
down the well, listen for the shatter
and the echo. Maybe I’ll plumb
my awkward wobbles, my anger.
After all, it’s Semicolon Day;
why not connect?
Only connect! Forster says
The glass breaking in my dream:
the glassy walls of the Marabar Caves.
Why do we humans find it so hard?
Carpenters: joiners who connect wood to wood.
Now, what they call horses
support the farmed mahogany treads and risers.
I open the door he made with ten lights,
with its brass cast-relief knob,
step out, walk down, and cross the tumbled bluestone
to the pond he created
where he sits on its lip
in the sun.
It waits now, before birdsong,
a patient stillness.
for a sky full of music
as it was in the old dawns here,
waits for paired Monarchs,
trios, a winged kaleidoscope.
Waits for itself as it was
before Monsanto and monocrops,
before the plundered forests.
As after fire, green returns,
morning light holds possibility.
And that one Anise Swallowtail
my husband photographed
yesterday’s gift out of the blue,
it is not yet
All of us try to keep up,
though mostly we creep.
We are locked in
to our pasts.
We are books
written by authors
whose names we have forgotten,
living as in a dream
until something pushes us
over the edge
and we wake up,
feel the heaviness of autumn,
the chill at the sky’s corners.
Already, we notice.
So soon this year, we think,
the leaves turning,
the squirrels beginning to nibble
at the green persimmons,
and finding them bitter,
throw them down.
Still, some birds sing.
The finches have fledged,
so tiny and trim,
so focused on being alive.
About the Author
Judy Bebelaar taught in San Francisco public schools for 37 years. Her students won many awards, several on the national level. She won awards
for her teaching on the national level as well. Her prize-winning poetry has been published widely in magazines and anthologies including The
Widows’ Handbook (foreword by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Kent State University Press); River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21stst Century (Blue
Light Press); The Squaw Valley Review; The Marin Poetry Center Anthology’s 20th-Anniversary Edition Getting the News; California Fire & Water:
a Climate Crisis Anthology; and When the Virus Came Calling: Coviid-19 Strikes America (Golden Foothills Press, 2020).
Her chapbook, Walking Across the Pacific, was published by Finishing Line Press, 2014. And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple
from High School to Jonestown written with Ron Cabral, is non-fiction, and has won ten awards and honors, including Judy and Ron being named
San Francisco Public Library Poet Laureates, and four first prizes.