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    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.




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.




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,

shattering soundlessly

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,

dripping bitterly

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 plumb

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.


It waits

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 DDT,

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

and framed,

yesterday’s gift out of the blue,

says perhaps

it is not yet

too late.




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,

moved on,

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.

Acknowledgements: Judy Bebelaar's poems in Poetry Hotel previously appeared in the following publications:“Lowpensky Lumber” (Stringtown, 

2010); “Fallen Leaf Lake” (Louisville Review, 2010); “Meditation on Darkness” (Dos Passos Review 2013; Red Wheelbarrow, 2016); “Covid Days”

(as “Sempervirens”) (When Covid Came to Visit, 2020); “Morning” (California Fire and Water 2020).

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