Beth Copeland

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.






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.