Dear Katharine
By Judy Bebelaar

Finally the last of my housemates has gone to bed.

They looked like pretty ghouls, on couches and chairs

their faces blue-lit by lap tops in the dark.

All of us looking for the fire in things.

I write in my sleep here, last night my mother’s blood

and a white silent secret, blossoming.

Today I created the world from a stone.

Tonight I will dream this letter to you.

It’s the air here in the high desert, I think.

You want to drink it in. It’s light inside.

On the morning nature walk I learned that birds,

when they sing in the sunlight, risk their lives,

revealing themselves to predators. But they sing.

And if they miss a part of the song, or get it wrong,

their own kind may chase them away.

Each neighborhood—of finch, sparrow, flicker, or jay—

has its own melody, created in those particular trees,

sometimes dozens of stanzas like beads on a string of sound.

You don’t know the music, it means you’re a stranger.

But at night, you can riff on the music, make it your own,

tell that other bird what a jerk

he is, or be like Cyrano, speaking his love in the dark.

We learned about mallow too, a tiny purple flower,

dark lines to the center, nectar guides for honeybees,

who see in ultraviolet. The petal’s lit runways

guide their approach to land and drink.

This afternoon, CD spoke about poetry and violence.

After Tiananmen Square in 1989,

a Chinese poet lost three good poet friends.

Two were killed, one went mad in exile.

She said the poet who lived couldn’t write after that,

Only in zigzag, he said.


Remember our kids in room 151?

The lab sink, the posters, the peeling paint?

Remember all the dozens of Chinese boys who came to school

white cloth bands tied around their heads

their faces older and harder,

in solidarity, the Monday after the Beijing massacre,

and how we changed that year’s theme to Heroes, Sung and Unsung?

They had the fire.

Now it’s 6 AM and I slept and dreamed

and woke and wrote in my head and slept again                            

and all these bits and pieces floated in or fell in chunks                       

until my bed felt like a pack rat’s nest.

Lauren, my roommate, turned and turned in her bed too.           

A dream about being locked in, she said. As for me,

I was lost in the crazy dim halls of the high school,

trying to get to my room to write,

the elevator going to one wrong floor,

then falling fast to another.

Oh, and Ann gave me a glass of chantray,

whatever that is.

She thought it would help.

And how this lovely high valley got its name, Squaw Valley:

the Indians here were guardians of the pass we call Donner.

Luckier, earlier travelers came, and saw only women and children,

smoke curling up from the tepees into the blue,

the men, all off hunting.

The women wouldn’t have called themselves by that name,

which isn’t even a Washo word.

Roethke says Light takes the tree, but who can tell us how?

He’s right. We learn by going where we have to go,

and from those so close beside me,

my fellow writers here, working in the dark,

and you.