Beth Copeland

Beth Copeland’s second book Transcendental Telemarketer received the runner up award in the North Carolina Poetry Council’s 2013 Oscar Arnold Young Award for best poetry book by a North Carolina writer. Her first book Traveling through Glass received the 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award. Her poems have been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including The Atlanta Review, New Millennium Writings, The North American Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Poet’s Market, Rattle, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Tar River Poetry, and The Wide Shore: A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry. She has been profiled as poet of the week on the PBS NewsHour web site. Beth lives in a log cabin in rural North Carolina.

 

Shinto Scroll

 

Red-crowned cranes in delicate

brush strokes on silk

 

between a gray

and gold brocade

 

border. An almost invisible

white, they pause on Hokkaido

 

snow before a hyacinth

blue lake. One, tall

 

on long legs; the smaller one’s

bill tucked into a black

 

tipped wing. Symbolic

of longevity and love

 

that weathers time

and cold, they will never fly,

 

folded wings caught

on an antique bolt

 

I roll into my suitcase

before I leave.

 

 

 

Featherweight Singer

 

My mother ferried her sewing machine

across the Pacific four times, stitching

 

continents as if

they were linen scraps—America

 

to Asia, Asia to America—following

Daddy as he exchanged his

 

version of heaven

for a suitcase of Shinto

 

scrolls. I fell

asleep to the white noise of that

 

black machine, to the song of steady

seams like wind in cottonwoods

 

or rain on rafters, to my mother’s breathing

when I climbed her bed after bad dreams.

 

My sisters and I wore our Sunday best—puffed

sleeves, gathered skirts, and sashes

 

sewn on the Featherweight Singer as we slept.

When I was fourteen, she tried to teach me

 

to pin Simplicity patterns to fabric and cut

on printed lines,  but I—sullen

 

and careless, too young

to believe I’d ever be alone—

 

thought she’d never leave. On her old

machine,  I sew silk

 

infinity scarves for sisters

and friends from vintage Varanasi

 

saris, listening to my

mother’s song in the rise

 

and fall of the needle and World without

end—whir of the unwinding

 

spool—amen, amen.

 

 

 

 Escape Artist

 

No one believed the old man

would escape with a Wanderguard

strapped to his wrist like Houdini’s

 

handcuffs.  Hunched

at the glass door, from beneath

hooded eyelids he watches

 

nurses punch codes to lift

the latch. Once

they found him at a gas station

 

across the street in a wheelchair, waving

as they wheeled him back. A janitor

found him on a landing

 

after he pulled himself down

a steep flight.  The staff call

his escapes elopements, as if

 

he’s running off with a bride

instead of leaving a locked

Alzheimer’s wing. He believes

 

Mother and I sleep in the room

next door and the nursing home’s a hotel.

A master of the art of escape, he left her

 

to cross the ocean with four little girls while he

took a whirlwind trip around the globe,  sending

postcards from Singapore,

 

Jordan, Switzerland, and a green taffeta

dress from Paris she never wore. Watch

him escape from this riveted trunk, breaking

 

chains, unlocking all locks, that sneaky

sweet old son of a fox.

 

 

 

Kintsugi

 

Mother’s Japanese friends

send cards she forgets

 

to open—prints of blond

birds flying

 

over turquoise waves, pine branches

burdened with snow. Her mailbox,

 

stuffed with letters

and junk. I slice

 

into an envelope and pluck a handwritten

note from Kinko-san: I have not heard

 

from you. I am worried. You are so

old. Mother snorts, She’s

 

almost as old as I am!

and we laugh

 

at what’s lost

in translation. She forgets bills,

 

to brush her teeth or swallow

her thyroid pills and Lipitor

 

but remembers Kinko-san

from long ago. Should I write to say you’re

 

okay? I’ll do it

later, but she won’t. She stares

 

at a maple for hours when I’m

not here, her hair a corona

 

of uncombed

dandelion seeds. Should I

 

laugh or cry? Like a broken

bowl mended with molten

 

gold, she’s more

beautiful than before. I hold

 

her in the heart

of my heart

 

where she’s whole.

 

 

 

Keeping Time

 

In the blue wheelchair, his eyes

open when I enter. Does

 

he know me? Maybe

he dives into the resemblance

 

to a snapshot

pinned to his wall.  At 94,

 

he drifts in and out of distant time

zones and forgotten memories. We graze

 

National Geographic, snowflakes, maple

leaves, and stars magnified

 

thousands of degrees. The clock

doesn’t advise

 

me to stay or leave, his watch

somewhere still keeping time. When

 

I was small, I’d hop onto his lap

while he held it to my ear, the gold

 

warm from his wrist. As I

listened to its ticking, I believed

 

he could hold back

time forever, a pulse that

 

would never stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhills Gold

 

 

 

… in the Sandhills of North Carolina, a few lucky beekeepers strike blue gold. ­–Chick Jacobs

 

 

 

The year Daddy died, beekeepers found blue

honey in their hives. How it turns

 

blue or why it only happens

here no one knows. Some

 

think bees feed on bruised huckleberries, scuppernongs

or kudzu blossoms. Too far inland, Daddy

 

never found it in the forty-five years

he kept hives. In the nursing home, I talked

 

blue honey into blue eyes that

stared back in a blur

 

of lost memory and sleep. What

was he thinking? I spoke

 

of  his veiled hat and long gloves,

bellowing hives

 

with smoke so he could pull combs and

honey from inside, and pour sourwood

 

into old Mason jars in slow motion

like the lengthening summer day

 

when the sky was so delphinium

it could be music, or the blue

 

shadow that followed me through the doorway

into the buzzing of bees when I

 

was thirteen, crying behind the pear tree because

I wasn’t popular enough to be

 

May Queen. This is what I choose

to keep against forgetting:

 

You’ll always

be my queen,

 

he said, bending

to kiss my forehead. I carry

 

that moment like a bee

in amber on a gold chain

 

above my heart to ward off wintering

broods and dark swarms,  a queen without

 

a country or hive, standing in slanted light

as bees droned

 

around my head, weaving a crown of wings

and buzzing with sweetness.

 

 

*****

 

 

Grief like honey left too long in the jar,

like the pint we bought last year

 

from a beekeeper who used to sell pot,

in the pantry all winter flanked by bottles

 

of blackstrap and Hungry Jack

crystallizing in the dark,

 

too solid to spoon onto bread unless you melt it

in water on the stove.  Impatient,

 

I spread the gold grains on my toast, remembering

when he was alive and it

 

poured in slow

measures onto my mother’s home-baked bread. One

 

summer he visited me in Chicago after robbing

his hive of a quart jar of sourwood, his

ankles so swollen

from stings he slept with his feet propped

 

on pillows. I want this

grief to dissolve like a lemon

 

lozenge on my tongue, I want

to taste the sweetness

 

of mornings

before sorrow, anger, and remorse

 

soured my vision of being

young and oblivious to his

 

pain, I want my words to flow

like a vein

 

onto the blue-lined page as holy

honey flowed from his white

 

hives onto our bread, tongues, lives.

 

 

 

 

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