Betsy Retallack lives and works in Beverly, Mass teaching music in the public schools. She lives on Poets Hill with her two sons, Kyle and Garth , and her husband Mark. Her day job is teaching classroom music and by night she writes. Her poetry recently appeared in The Best American Poetry 2006 (Scribner) edited by Billy Collins and David Lehman.
I pause here
Gazing at your marker
A prayer rises up
From a deep place
“Let them go, release them.
Where you have lingered long,
May God linger longer.”
And a little March bee
Flies to find nectar
Among the dried and plastic greens
How warm your visit
And then fly away
With the sweet entrails
of your presence
Heritage July 7, 2003
One day I was dancing flamenco steps
make up, shawl, shoes,
in front of the mirror
and in one glance from a spin
I saw my mother in my eyes.
I had to stop and look just longer than a glance
because I realized she was looking into me
carrying on her dreams in my dance
in my lipstick, her favorite red
flaming flamenco red.
One day I was laughing a chuckle that I had
heard somewhere before in my mother's chuckle,
her high pitched emotion, excited by humor,
taken off guard in a laugh.
I was out of my body listening to my mother
in my voice, in the clearing of my throat
in my hesitations and my affections of hugging.
She didn't mean to breathe through me like that,
that kind of mothering wind of self.
I still am me, myself but unavoidably she
is breathing still as my sons breathe still
inhaling inheritance of touch and voice
eyes and smiles, gaits and postures
from their uncles that are really from my father
that never breathed beyond his own forty six years
but breathes on in what still lives.
One day I thought my brother was my son
when he touched my shoulders from behind in the same way.
Who visits me that I do not know?
What voice belongs really to Wealthy Griggs
or Carrie Allen or some other tree branch of my family?
from one eternity to another
God breathes His spirit
through human flesh
in familiar kindness
of being known.
The sun sets over Cadillac Mt.
Orange turns to pink, to gray
Over a ragged coastal bay in Maine
And then the sliver of a moon appears
In the darkening sky in the west
Not visible by day at its rising
Or at its peak at noon
But now here for its encore performance
With a goodnight wink from its neighbor Venus.
Only time can tell me if it’s setting or rising
And in a few slow moments
The slivered crescent sinks behind the black mountains
Gone in minutes
Leaving behind the deepening indigo night
Mars and Venus yielding its faint light to twilight
Finding their brighter places
Amidst the family
Now coming into a chorus of focus
Clearer and clearer
The multitudes of stars grow
Until full darkness brings
And the shooting stars start their dance
Of falling gracefully
Into the hands of other stars.
The milky way, a lush demonstration
sings in tandem
Echoing back and forth
Glowing in song a great unfathomable melody
A never understood mysterious harmony
That has kept my gaze
And millions of others
With crimped necks and wet backs
From a midnight dew upon a grassy look-out.
Lord Have Mercy
When I was 21 living in Delaware
There was this big black woman
Who worked in the senior center kitchen
Where I worked who told me,
“Lord have Mercy! No matter what
always be generous about buying food.
You should always have plenty of food in the house.
I don’t care how poor I am I’ve got to have lots of food.
It’s the most important thing, God and food!”
This made quite an impression on me.
I immediately took her word as Gospel.
My shelves became well stocked
I over bought in case of famine or disaster
I filled the freezer with meat
And ravioli, peas and vegetable medleys
I bought gallons of milk instead of quarts
I filled my Tupperware containers with flour and wheat germ
Nuts and dried fruit, cereals and bran
I owned every flavor of herbal tea
I had enough coffee grounds for ten years
I made fresh bread on a weekly basis
There was always ice cream on hand
I made my own granola
I bought Bon Appetite magazine and tried out all the recipes
Which caused an increase in unusual items that also increased
The Tupperware population.
Things were getting out of control when I realized at one point
That I was becoming as large as the cook in Delaware
And I said, “Lord have mercy!
I shall not live by bread alone.
This largeness of myself has overcome me
And my stockpile mentality has overrun me.”
I began to empty the shelves and the freezer
I released the sugars and the flours to the garbage bin
And I genuflected as I discarded each item,
A kind of farewell blessing to the black prophetess of Delaware
Who God only knows
Is crying out still, “Lord have mercy!”
Rabbits Coming Out of Hats
I made the mistake
Of seeing a narly wooded root in the forest
A pile of wood at dusk
And an odd shaped rock, larger than a breadbox
And mistook it for a wild creature.
Maybe this time… I said, “I thought I saw a rabbit.”
And it wasn’t initially
But when I walked around the fence
I did indeed see the rabbit
And the stone that had appeared as a rabbit as well.
You see , it was magic.
The stone came to life, became animated.
My words prophesied and it came into being!
Or so I imagined.
There have been many mistaken moments
Like these in the woods on a path to somewhere
When the shadows dressed the earth
In such a way
That I really believed I was seeing something
That wasn’t there.
I made a magical mistake, almost wishing in my wondering
That it would become my thought.
I’ve done that before with people.
I’ve looked at the shadows cast at the end of the day
looking into eyes, looking at positions
at postures, at the way one walks
and thought for sure I knew
but then upon closer inspection I saw what was really there.
Maybe I could revisit that place
When the light was brighter
And the shadows less intense.
Sometimes if I just move around the fence and get a different perspective,
I’ll see magic.
The inanimate misunderstanding comes to life
And miracles do happen.
Rabbits coming out of hats.