Betsy Sholl

Dear— and On Misreading a Line by Mario de Andrade
February 21, 2024 Sholl Betsy



Scorch splinter shard and itch  Dear glitch
Dear whale fluke and gnat


Dear words on stage applause reception crowd
milling about  Dear wine and grapes and dried chicken


Dear choke stopped breath and nobody sees  Dear woman
out of nowhere and Heimlich twice till the meat flies out


Dear breath and breathe and cell phone home
to tell my love what he thinks he knows I’m alive


Dear what’s your hurry and hurry up walking to my car
Dear sweet red of stop light brake light horn


Dear bundle of blankets heaped in a doorway hiding a man
Dear lovelorn girl head down leaving the bar alone


Dear sudden thought of tender gorilla with her pet kitty
bully finally able to pick flowers and weep


Dear dog-eared library book on the passenger seat
the torn-out page somebody couldn’t let go


Dear now and not yet never and always whiff
of snuffed wick drifting to the back of the church


Dear everything that lives between the lines
Dear lines that hold spider hair blood and bass


Dear second chance at inhale exhale shallow and deep
Dear here inside of there ear inside of dear


Dear heart earth art Thou mystery and abyss
hear my stunned my stammered prayer my yes



On Misreading a Line by Mario de Andrade


“Late arrivals en masse” I read quickly,
imagining a gaggle of students entering class
still echoing whatever in the hallway
made them laugh. And say we stop the lesson


a moment, so we can share a little contact high,
and why not?  If you don’t live it, Bird said,
it won’t come out of your horn. Bird, who was
flying high through those bebop years, except


when he wasn’t—the sad story of the coroner
misjudging his age by twenty years. Friends,
let us be quiet and grieve that brilliant
heartache of a man, his wounded sweetness.


But de Andrade’s line—what it really says:
“Late arrivals at Mass in lace.”  Suddenly,
here’s the doily my friend’s mom bobby-pinned
to my head, so I could enter church with them.


And the late comers?   Someone rushing in
from her lover’s bed or from spooning water
through a patient’s dry lips?  If it’s midnight,
she could be high-heeled, breathless, dressed


for the bar, wanting a little redemption
before her night’s work begins. But if all
the world is holy, isn’t wherever we are
already there, so how can anyone be late?


To see perhaps the holes that make up lace,
or the sadness in Charlie Parker’s eyes,
the quiet nod of the barkeep keeping tabs,
leaning in to hear the night’s confessions.

Betsy Sholl’s ninth collection is House of Sparrows: New & Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, 2019).Her 10th collection, “As If a Song Could Save You,” will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in fall of 2022. She teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.