My sister Betsy is the poet.

All original material © 1996,1997, Betsy Bell

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.
Perfectly good,
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
Crowded drawer
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. Sharp penetration, watery acceptance.

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:

Electronic tyranny

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
my brother.
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

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

Betsy Bell, October 27th, 1996


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 fire
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 folks do
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 structures
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
territories claimed
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 later:

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:

Pastel Weather

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

Man Talk

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 child-self up,
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 through me.
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