Judy Bebelaar







That Instable Object of Desire


In the oldest dreams of old men, women’s breasts still remain…

medals, emblems of their love.

Duane Michals



rooms full of breasts

rooms darkened to protect the photographs


a young woman holding her shirt up

with her teeth,

on her head a rhinestone diadem

old breasts, empty, pendulous

cactus bud breasts,

pears as breasts

figs, lemons, persimmons,

breasts over Yosemite Falls


the Arbus waitress at a nudist camp,

hers pert and tanned, her order book

tucked into her apron pocket


I’m remembering nursing Kristy—

that night coming home in the car,

the perfect arc of the Sonoma moon


I’m thinking of tipis, yurts, hogans, kivas

of California tule houses,

of duomos and geodesic domes


I’m thinking of the crescent scar

on my now slightly smaller right breast,

of the clinical words:

lumpectomy, mastectomy,

of Rachael Carson whose breasts were burned

with an x-ray machine, the treatment that didn’t save her life,

of how that little scar saved mine

and how lucky that was


I’m thinking of all the women who get treatment

too late

or not at all


for a while, in that dimly lit gallery,

I wandered in the world of the breast—

That Instable Object of Desire

and went out into the streets of Florence,

filled with light



Up on the Hill


Quiet up here, except for grass rustle,

birdsong from the tall eucalyptus.

Betsy beside me, rests her black nose on her paws.

We’ve drifted away from the house below,

where a different quietness has taken hold

again. I’m not thinking of my mother

or her deep-set, eyes, blue and troubled.

She’s not shut in her room

lying in bed past breakfast time.

She won’t be there either

when Betsy and I come down from our hill.


She’ll be out in the back yard,

hanging laundry with wooden pins from their bag,

hanging a shirt by the hem,

clipping it to the waist of my sister’s green skirt,

until there are concentric regular rings of color,

the heavy brown rayon of my father’s weekend work shirts,

his white dress shirts for the office,

the yellow towels and the blue ones,

all neatly connected by hinged pins.


Or maybe she’ll be at the ironing board

with one of his handkerchiefs folded

with a point on top for his initials, CKV,

or my party dress from the Florence Shop,

tiny black and white flowers, red piping,

or her green house dress, her blue apron—

I tried to make her one, but it fell apart.


She won’t be singing, but she’ll be smiling,

ready to look at the fossils I’ve found,

sea shells in sandstone from the side of the hill

where they’re digging foundations for brand new houses.

Nine is too old for pretending,

but I do. Like Straight Arrow,

I have a horse in a cave.

His, Fury, mine Estrella for the white star

on her shining black forehead.

Betsy is black and white too; they match.

Up on the hill, we find gold, bring it to those in need,

rescue children, save stage coach ladies from being robbed

and gallop off before they even have a chance to say thank you.


And at night, Betsy will be curled up beside me.

I’ll pretend we’re going to heaven,

where Angel my friend lives.

We’ve built a house there,

adobe, in the center, a fountain in the patio.

There is no pit of emptiness there,

no silence full of despair,

no angry shouting in the night,

no need to cook dinner for my father ,

the biscuits burned and hard—

though he ate three, said they were as good as Mother’s—

because she was in the hospital

after the morning of the car

running and running in the garage,

the morning of the ambulance.

She’s home now,

and that won’t happen again.

None of that happens in Angel’s house,

or up on the hill.





I would like to put it on paper for you—

not on the paper really, but threaded through the words—

metamorphosis,  transcendence, transmigration.

Yet I fall so short.

Can’t seem to change, and into what?

Certainly can’t cross over.

How can we meet?


You’re on that side;

I’m on this.

And here I am with another.

Once, I called him by your name.


Sometimes in dreams

when you’re coming home

I don’t know what to do with his being here.

In the dreams houses by water, and

wings, and boats that are beds.


You rode waves as if you had wings.

Now he makes houses into sailing ships:

the kitchen a galley with high shelving,

what used to be our bedroom

now a pilot house.

I write and look out

at the same trees you saw

in skies which still fold spring into fall.

This is our home:

yours, mine;

now mine, his.


The first time I said love to him

after the glider ride and my undeniable

greed for his kiss,

he said I don’t know what love is.


I used to be so sure—

should I have waited

until my ashes were taken

to be scattered with yours?

Could we swim together then?


I think of running,

the simple intricate physics that moves me forward

the breath heart pumping transforming

body to spirit energy light.

Is that the secret to solving love?

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other

and trust?


When I think I’ve found the way

after a morning that lifts the new two of us

into the blue of day,

I remember the slow blessing of the Hopis,

their small rafts over silk water

making the ground sacred for movement.

They had no word for past or present.

This is the fourth world, another chance to get it right.


Einstein said that gravity cannot be held responsible

for people falling

in love.

I chose to jump.


From bright skies

I fall into memories of the hemlock you planned to take

when it was too painful, too hopeless,

but you didn’t, wanting to hold on

to me I suppose, and to our daughter,

to the yellow primrose along the coast

trembling in the small breezes of evening,

to light glancing off ocean silver green,

to the light that implodes

when you’re making love.


Something about those wings,

falling through light

while feeling warm and climbing light again and soaring

down on Daedalus wings doomed

and still soaring and laughing

is what I wanted to try to tell you.


(previously published in Flyway: a Journal of Writing and Environment as part of a submission which was a finalist in their chapbook competition, 2009 and in Willard and Maple, 2008)



What Matters


Laughter matters.

And rain. The smell of rain

in a pine forest,

a river rising.


John went first,

pulling himself across,

then the rest of us,

one at a time

in the rickety gondola,

over the roiling water

surging to the sea.

Laughter, adrenalin, screams.

He was the P E teacher—

Aikido, yoga, Tai Chi—

and this class,

Survival in the Wilderness—

but he hadn’t planned on all this rain.


The cabin, noisy with teenagers,

piles of sleeping bags, back packs, food.

All of the girls in love with John.

That matters.

Sleeping together in our red fuzzy bag.

John and me.

Dampness. A fire.

Did we make love?

Yes, quietly.


That matters,

even more so,

now that John is dead.

Was the girl there

who slept with John in his bag in the snow?

Desolation Valley,

the second trip,

(I’d gone on the first.)

Later he said,

just to keep her warm.


That I didn’t go matters.



Whether or not

he told the truth matters.


Abhu, Not Yet Two


didn’t want to take a nap.

She rarely does—

so much that is new to see and to do—

so she came with her mama and me

to go shopping at a boutique.

Crawling under the table

near the dressing rooms was good,

the big mirrors,

and the straw derby the saleswoman

took from the mannequin

to perch on Abhu’s curly head—

all for a minute.


But exploring under a rack of dresses,

she discovered a smooth marble curbing

near a small set of stairs,

just right to slide along,

and then down the curved end-piece


to the floor.

I’m so happy, she said to me,

Grandma Judy, I’m so happy!


And the lady shoppers passing by

smiled as if they remembered,

and wished


were still

so simple.













Judy Bebelaar taught English and creative writing in San Francisco public high schools for 37 years and loved almost every minute. With her students she produced dozens of poetry anthologies and, for 20 years, a literary arts calendar which won two national awards. Retired now, she’s writing poetry and working on a non-fiction book, And Then They Were Gone, about students she taught at a small alternative school in San Francisco who were sent there by Jim Jones in September of 1976. Nine months later most of them had been sent to Jonestown. Her poetry has appeared in dozens of magazines, including Harpur Palate, The Louisville Review, Many Mountains Moving, as well as in Stickman, Digital Paper, and Rudolf’s Diner online magazines. Her work also appears in a women’s anthology: Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down and is forthcoming in another: The Widow’s Handbook.



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