Betsy is the poet.
All original material © 1996,1997,
A message from Betsy on 2/11/97
Hello, out there. I just got word that I have had two poems selected
for publication by a journal called Poetalk put out by the Bay Area Poets
Collective. I sent them four and they picked two! I'm thrilled. Here they
are. You haven't seen them yet, I don't think.
Singles ©1997, Betsy Bell
I grieve the loss of socks.
Color chosen to match something.
No thread bare yet in the heal.
A couple seasons left.
I resent the singles,
Taking up space in an already
And wish they'd get lost, too.
Symphony of Motion ©1997, Betsy Bell
Eight rowers, one catch,
suspended from the oar,
body fulcrum, arms
sweep the table top
in perfect unison.
So there you have it.
Love to all, Betsy
When I first saw Lyman's name on my in message
list back a few months ago, I knew I had to write a poem about the jarring
experience of finding someone I cared about show up on the utilitarian
device. It is written now. Here it is:
- Slither, slap, clink
from two rooms away doing business on the phone,
the sound of mail falling through the slot onto the closet floor
Could there be a "who body" letter today?
Hours later when the schedule permits,
I scoop up the pile of bills, circulars and payments
scanning for something personal.
That night when closing down my office,
I log on to check the e-mail,
expecting quips, plans, list serves for common interest groups
information highway stuff.
My heart pounds.
It's too late at night for this.
Amidst the five new messages appears
He calls me on my birthday once a year.
This unanticipated intrusion,
familial, perhaps intimate
explodes onto my screen.
No time to savor post marks, stamps
pick up the Turkish letter opener
brew a cup of tea, sit down to read.
Betsy Bell, November 7, 1996
Has anyone had this experience? Love, Betsy
In 1986 Steve Biko, a 30 yr old black leader of
the growing anti aparteid movement in South Africa, was taken to jail without
due process. He later died on head wounds, supposedly self inflicted. Last
week the men who reported his suicide confessed to killing him before the
Truth and Reconciliation Committee lead by Bishop Desmond Tutu. Some of
you may not have followed the South African freedom fight as closely as
I have over the years. Here's my poem about Steve Biko. I'm not that happy
that the poem doesn't tell enough that it would stand without any explanation.
But a few people I've read it to don't remember Steve Biko or much about
the South African struggle. Any suggestions as to how to incorporate enough
material to get the full story across would be helpful. Thanks. Betsy
I would rather have revenge
Look at his face, lean, narrow
stubble of whiskers accentuate the sharp chin
Eyes steely, piercing
full passionate mouth
This man, Steve Biko, was beautiful
he called our people to their beauty
No one believed
no one in the wide world believed
our fiery hero went berserk
threw himself against the prison wall
Ten years and freedom later
the truth is out.
small men, desperate to absolve the guilt
slowly rotting in the marrow of their lives
the sinews of their hearts
slidding between them and their wives at night
beneath the covers
on their breath when blowing kisses to their sons
now feel some unaccustomed hope
that they can trust a basic goodness
from which they had themselves cut off.
Reconcile these murderers or seek revenge?
I for one was pregnant then
They could see I'd bring our child fatherless
into the world when they swept him from me
to quell the voice we followed to liberation.
Bitter hatred eats me now as their guilt ate them.
Perhaps their public shame is justice enough.
Betsy Bell, February 1997
This subject while I feel sure was inspired by Haloween,
plunged me into my deepest stuff. Here's what resulted:
The Thing brew I Feared the Most Has Happened
Finishing a sumptuous meal
we go out to find our car
smashed, my ruck sack stolen.
The thing I feared the most
has happened. My Day Timer
my life on paper, who I know
where I go, gone.
Instead of consummating
all those adrenalin surges,
breast clutching panics when it was
momentarily misplaced, I feel
relief, unencumbered lightness
my slate wiped clean.
The thug must be disappointed to have
loot of no value
while I am merely inconvenienced.
Betsy Bell, October 27th, 1996
Holding back creeping signs of age
twingy knees, easy bruises, thinning hair
I have honed a well crafted
plan of exercise, foods to avoid, consume
sustained by Shaklee supplements
lulling me to complacent invincibility.
Thinking to cadge some treasure
a car-smashing thug made off with my vitamins.
Within hours I felt my cells struggle
losing ground to ravages of travel stress
creeping fatigue, muscle cramps, a migraine rising
with a deep fear up the back of my scalp
A fear of death,
of growing old, of getting sick and dying.
A fear greater than falling off a cliff
than getting mugged, getting lost
arriving late, forgetting my lines.
My immortality project flawed.
My utter dependency on these pills and powders
Without them life as I know it would have to change.
The pace I keep dwindle to a slow walk
the dancing, hiking, running, biking
hopping airplanes every few weeks,
napless high energy grandchild chasing
appointment filled sixteen hour days
cheerful enthusiasm would
slide back to irritable crabby fatigue.
Not to mention cancer cells waiting to
burst out of control returning me to
endless rounds of doctors' visits, biopsies, scans.
Sobered by my attachment to feeling good,
my deep fear of poor health,
I find a Shaklee rep in this distant city
buy the Basics and build optimal wellness again.
I am left with a residue of fear and denial
that will not dissipate.
Betsy Bell, October 25 , 1996
After raising four daughters and surviving a loving
husband in the same 5,000 sq. ft. house for nearly 30 years she decides
to start anew and writes:
- Sweep the dust of all the years from the
inner recesses of this brain,
this bowel, this heart
the moldy build-up undisturbed by waves gales avalanche torrent earthquake
ravishes of famine, war, plague.
A half century of accumulation. Inside. And all the stuff outside.
We're talking Burning down the House here.
This move two miles north may look like what most
several times in their lives.
But I'm describing a process close to major reorganization of the
face of the planet.
Take a political purge, a pogrom, when an entire people are
wiped off the face of the earth as though her
face needs cleaning, a facial scrub of such intensity
the pustules, pimples, hairs and skin itself exfoliate.
You can't recognize her anymore. I mean there are
acres in Brazil, Viet Nam, former Yugoslavia, not to mention
purges that happened through the centuries to render
landscapes and peoples destroyed.
My thinking feeling landscape feels like this.
There's a place in southern Africa where monumental
are fashioned from earth's purge.
Exfoliation beauticians and geologists call it.
Solid granite breathes in moisture in rainy season
clay masque seeped-in wetness freezes in winter, expands to
crack earth's face
whole slabs slide off when the weather turns dry again.
Ancient peoples built magnificent structures with these sloughed off pieces
new life rising from the ashes.
Betsy Bell, 18 August 1996
Early Morning at the Taj Majal
Languages I cannot decipher
caterwauling cries on the loud speakers
guides under benches
contorted angles for a better shot
a cachaphony of parrot, myna, monkey
screeching their morning news
air thick with irritating smog
These myriad assaults
cannot obliterate this splendor of love
honoring the dead Queen
Jahan's grief poured out in perfect white balance
Still, exquisite, majestic.
Attone for your immortality project gone wrong.
Adored Mumtaz, Chosen One of seventeen years
Mother fourteen times over.
We grieve before your Taj
delicate and momunental as the woman's body
you used up.
- Betsy Bell, 12 December 1996
Our mom died in 1986 a few days after
her 50th wedding aniversary. Betsy writes nine years
- Mom was attached to stuff,
carefully stored in many closets.
In one I found the furs:
a long one,
a car coat length one,
a stole with no sleeves for
throwing over her shoulders,
a set of four little foxes
In case I ever could bring myself to wear it,
I'd had the lining taken out
which kept them together,
because I run hot.
- I took several car loads to the Goodwill
when she died
and wondered if anyone else
who lived there, in Oklahoma,
would find a use for all that stuff,
especially the fur.
Betsy Bell, 24 November 1995
- Mom had a flare for drama.
- One May Day when she was ten
- She organized the neighborhood
- To make a pageant.
- Her mom sewed tulle costumes,
- Wove flowers and ribbons
- In the children's hair.
- She rehearsed them in song and dance,
- Talked the grounds keeper into
- Rearranging park benches
- And charged 5¢ admission,
- There in the Swedish ghetto Bronx
- Overlooking Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.
- When I was ten, I remember
- The bursts of Shakespeare
- "You blocks, you stones,
- You worse than senseless things,
- Knew you not Pompeii?"
- When I hit that in ninth grade English
- I'd been there already,
- In the kitchen,
- Suddenly transported
- In the midst of doing dishes,
- Her towel became a Roman's cape
- And she declaimed:
- "You hard hearts,
- You cruel men of Rome.
- I come to bury Caesar,
- Not to praise him!"
- I remember feeling sorry for my
- Friend in college,
- Whose educated mother never broke into
- Speeches from the Greats.
- (My mom had never been to college.)
- She faced all those authors in Freshmen
- English as a room full of strangers,
- While I greeted them,
- Comfortable old friends.
Betsy Bell, 24 November 1995
- Mom / Nurse
- Mom eyed the sweep hand on her watch face.
- Becoming the nurse,
- she scrutinized, measured, calculated
- with the instruments of her profession
- when all I really wanted
- for my feverish, miserable, sick self
- was, "There, there, sweetie pie,
- there, there."
- A story and a hug,
- not propped up pillows,
- a paper bag pinned to my sheet
- for snotty kleenex,
- a dose of this and that
- and reports of my temperature's
- progress on the chart.
- Just "there, there" please.
- Where is Mommy, Where is Mommy?
- Come back, please. Come back, please.
- I am not your patient
- I don't want a scrub nurse
- I need a hug, Just a little hug.
Betsy Bell, 24 November 1995
When the Second World War started we lived in
Hastings, New York. When dad went to war we moved to a Finger Lakes cabin
owned by my dad's uncle.
In early April Mom took us kids
to wait out the War in a
borrowed cabin in the Finger Lakes.
Ice cycles still hung from the dock.
Within days the snow drops and
bluebells popped out.
Robins made nest building noises.
Snow melted to reveal perfect, flat skipping stones.
Bleeding hearts dripping sadness
mirror my unexpected tears this April
fifty years later when
I drive the Northern Extension
heading from Philly through the
Poconos to Ithaca
to see my newest grandchild.
In eighty-three I took this route
in the company of my parents
to reconnect with the simple
war time life,
to reminisce, confirming that it
once was better between us,
and they missed it, too.
Not so for them. Those war years
were hardship, separation.
No money nor status nor servants.
What I loved best they hated most.
Triggered by the rosy blush making
fuzzy the stark scafolding of trees,
my disappointing childhood recedes like melting snow.
May this new little family make it to
their middle years without such pain and loss.
Betsy Bell, April 11, 1996 (the
day after what would have been our mom's 87th birthday)
All of my Swedish mom's US relatives lived in the Bronx.
After the war our dad wanted something slower than NY. He selected Oklahoma.
Many years later Betsy settled in Seattle. She reflects:
- After the War
- They left the black-tie world
- Of Hastings-on-the-Hudson,
- The family ties of Swedish ghetto Bronx,
- To find a place to raise us,
- My brothers and me.
- "Come test the pastel weather
- of the Northwest," my uncle urged.
- They hated the penetrating
- Damp cold
- The almost rain
- The grey.
- And chose instead a place
- Of primary colors.
- Bright yellow sun, hot enough to
- Fry an egg on the sidewalk.
- Siren red, the cardinal
- And the Oklahoma dirt crawling with red scorpions.
- A deep blue sky reflected in Acee Blue Eagle's
- Cherokee paintings.
- The blue jay yattering of a high contrast world.
- Years later, by accident,
- I came home to my Self
- In the watercolor world on Puget Sound.
- The cardinal never made it.
- Green provides the back drop
- To soft rusts, pale yellows,
- Golden and blue fungus, a quiet
- Landscape where rain mists
- And shapes of grey roll through
- The heavens in a muted
- Symphony of pastel weather.
Betsy Bell October 16, 1995
- I watch them,
- Standing there
- Shoulder to shoulder
- Rocking on their heals
- Ejaculating comments
- At passers by.
- I never get
- How these men
- Know each other
- Or each other's intentions.
- He and I went out
- About the land
- I nagged
- "Have you called ahead?
- Do you know he's home?
- Have you made contact?"
- My ignored worry
- splayed over the countryside
- Missing deaf ears.
- A city daughter
- Wed to a farmer's son.
- At last the cousins meet,
- Utter oblique remarks
- Including stats of
- Crops and acreage,
- Harvests and unwritten
- Financial relations.
- I'm relieved they talk.
- I don't get their meaning.
- Unnatural squaring off
- In the over stuffed room,
- Lest they meet eye to eye
- They repair to the yard
- Where shoulder to shoulder
- They contemplate machinery,
- Kick the tires,
- Rock on their heals,
- And hurl agreements
- Into the autumn wind.
Betsy Bell, 5 November 1995
- Signaling lost girlhood
- breasts pooch out
- to rub cotton broadcloth
- with discomfort.
- Mom said "must get that girl a bra."
- Pops said "No,
- the muscles must develop
- to hold them pert and sassy
- on their own."
- I'm the only one left bare in gym.
- My flapping shirt reveals soft mounds
- to gasps and giggles.
- "Must get that girl a bra!"
- "And then a diaphragm."
- He said. "A chastity belt.
- She'll be hot to have some
- young buck in her pants."
- The boy touched me.
- Volcanoes pushed their hot centers
- high and molten lava flowed
- to soak the car seat.
- Sweaty brow, sloppy kisses,
- plucking fingers, pulsing urgency,
- tumultuous torment
- held in check to prove
- Pops wrong: I vowed to marry
- technically virginal.
- Instruments of life,
- the milk lets down to the cry
- of each new babe,
- a remarkable rhythm of fueling
- and feeding, nurturing the young.
- The tugging pull, gulping, drinking
- quivering lips, tiny hand
- fondling soft flesh,
- these breasts a source of love,
- comfort and nourishment.
- The hope of Body Perfect
- One breast cut off.
- A cancer, where the milk
- Once flowed.
- The whore Pops thought I was
- now I would never be.
- To taste the forbidden
- no longer was an option.
- Who would want a maimed lover?
- Pretend it isn't happening.
- Lose weight. Eat the right stuff.
- Wear gaudy colors.
- Accept no sympathy.
- Resign myself to wife-dom
- and Motherhood.
- How did they react?
- One daughter said, "I grew up with a
- One Boob Mom!"
- "You weren't using it anyway,"
- my Doctor quipped.
- My husband became a left handed
- lover, and shifted
- to the other side of the bed.
- And he never once fell off!
- The younger ones thought
- that they'd been bad
- and because of them
- I was dying.
- I was filled with shame.
- Cancer is unacceptable.
- Some sin had brought me to this place.
- My parents, The Comforters, (HA!)
- Refused to come and spoke not of it
- save to say,
- "have all the rest cut out, too.
- Female organs are a hot bed of
- Obsessed with power,
- importance, my work, my mind,
- my body, seeking approval.
- So hungry for someone, anyone
- to set my agenda
- and give out gold stars for a
- job well done.
- Take this mother-worn woman
- give her a public cause
- to champion and watch her GO.
- Take this body, parts missing,
- But, Oh, so toned, thinned and fit.
- Find a work-place lover
- to prove seductive possibilities
- were not destroyed.
- Illicit sex and titillation at last!
- Handle her, experiment,
- Send nasty chill after thrill
- Coursing down old lava tubes.
- Family matters.
- Community matters.
- Drawn back in, loved and forgiven.
- My husband's gift of anger
- lifts the veil.
- His quarter century of care,
- of patience holds sacred
- the bond of marriage.
- I am home where I belong.
- Where can the fallen go?
- Who will hire me?
- Does Megan's Law* follow
- an adulteress?
- They take me in,
- pay me for work that seems
- a joyous penance.
- The boss honors me for all I've done.
- Pins medals, sings praises,
- seeks my counsel.
- It is not enough.
- The shame will not absolve.
- Enough. The Pitty Party's over.
- I see myself, the five year old,
- gazing back from the Pentax print, gather my
- lift her from the swamp
- of my parents'
- righteous good intentions.
- To her, I say,
- I will stand with you,
- hold your small hand,
- With tender respect,
- I'll follow your curious
- discovery of your world,
- your body, body functions,
- body needs.
- Honor you. Learn who you are.
- And through you, my child-self,
- discover me.
- Fifty-eight today.
- I search out a full length mirror.
- Slowly unbutton my shirt.
- Slip out of clothes, practical,
- sensible, and
- stand, full faced, full hipped.
- one small breast, one bare chest,
- ribs showing (the extra flesh
- is all below the belt.)
- I could love this woman.
- I can hold her gaze as
- lovers do.
- I touch, so gently,
- with Jasmine oil, face
- arms, shoulders, breast,
- belly, thighs, ankles. Hands and feet.
- I am a lovely seasoned woman,
- Open, unashamed.
- I am alive. A shudder of happy appreciation surges
- Certainly some illness
- will claim this body someday.
- For now, I am forgiven
- and vibrantly ALIVE.
Betsy Bell, August 2, 1995
On her Fifty-eighth birthday