Three PoemsBeth Bentley
To D. in Invisible Ink
I will send you my poems via J.
He’ll deliver them wrapped in brown paper.
On the third day of the fifth month,
following our last encounter
we’ll put Plan B into operation—
but only if the lake is calm
and you can see the green boat drifting inland.
Wear the face of your sister who died
and Virginia Woolf’s ivory pendant;
I’ll be wearing my limp and smoking
a brown cigarillo in a holder.
I’ll be painted to resemble a woman.
If there’s a rose pinned to my collar,
don’t speak; it means I’m being followed.
We’ll switch to Plan C—unless it rains;
then I’ll be under the 5th Street freeway.
I feel they’re closing in;
the gloxinia’s wired for sound
and a camera gleams in the laurel hedge
aimed at my bedroom window.
If J. isn’t there by two
put Plan X into operation.
The capsules are in the third drawer
of the desk on the mezzanine
of the Old Towne Hotel—take the white one;
pink is my best color.
Destroy our maps, books, clothing,
all our written words;
there must be nothing left to decipher—
only our clenched bodies,
our knotted faces, our hands
made hieroglyphic by plots
and colored pencils.
I’ll not contact you again,
dear sister, letter writer, favorite conspirator.
Memorize these lines. Burn this.
The old man wavers at the edge
of his daughter’s dream:
he thinks he’s at the wrong address.
She goes to the window
but the sky has smudged its messages.
She remembers her childhood,
a series of windows, each
with a small girl waving
as a car vanishes around the corner
like the tail-end of a parade,
a last snatch of noise and color.
The months accordion like post-cards
from Denver, Salt Lake, Death Valley.
She is alone in the car, and speeding
past farms, little towns that close
their eyes. Billboards hand out
brochures like fortune cookies.
Ahead, another car, just out of sight,
distracts the grasses with its whisper.
Horizons throb from the steering wheel
into her arteries, her foot
on the pedal burns. She hunches forward
as if her body were the motor,
as if her narrowed eyes gave the engine power.
The road is blue with spent fuel.
Wait, she murmurs. Wait. I’m coming.
La Salle des Pas Perdus
This time of day one lifts or draws
the curtains to read the light,
or drifts from window to window.
Petals or flakes of snow are drifting
outside; an empty bird-feeder hangs
motionless, a broken pendulum.
Has the grass stopped growing?
Inside, rows of books, sealed
in their bright covers, close ranks,
pressed shoulder to shoulder.
A resting place to catch your breath
is what the heart both fears and longs for.
Though even here in this inert,
this inexplicable room, under your breath
your long, slow breaths say
to each other, keep coming, keep going.
Nothing’s completely static
in the waiting room. You move from chair
to chair, logging time, losing time.
No two clocks tick in unison.
Nor do they indicate the exact hour.
Though you feel insular, solitary,
the place seems somehow crowded.
Not to worry. You have your ticket.
No one can do your waiting for you.
Beth Bentley was an award-winning poet and educator who lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest and whose work appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Poetry, The Atlantic, Paris Review, Poetry Northwest, and The Nation. The author of numerous collections, she taught poetry for over 30 years, including at the University of Washington, Kirkland Arts League, Tacoma Public Schools and Lake Washington School District, and at the Cornish College of the Arts. She passed away in 2021.
Originally published in Moss: Volume Eight.