Betsy Sholl

The Cocoon, I Started Slowly & Morning’s Only Yellow
January 17, 2021 Sholl Betsy

The Cocoon

Visiting my cousin’s church I found
the preacher charming in his depiction
of the apostles flying by the seat
of their pants, Holy Ghost shirttails:
Not knowing a blessed thing, Brothers
and Sisters, but alert, just looking
and whizzing around–Imagine!,


so it was easy to take my sad self
to the prayer line and let him go
hammer and tongs, hands tight
on my head: Unlock, open those
mighty floodgates, let inspiration
pour, let it roll down– but then
he just stopped, stepped back,


said he had a word for me straight
from the big guy: Don’t touch
the cocoon. But, but, those floodgates-
what happened to them, those words
gushing out? I wanted to ride that
rush like a water park slide, not get
some crappy inscrutable word.


But the minister grinned. Bird bait,
he said: That’s what you get
if you open a cocoon too soon.
That critter has to strengthen its wings.
And how does it do that, my dear?
Elbow and nudge, it shoves. Amused,
he looked at me, one brow raised,


as if he could see me four states away
back home, muttering to whatever’s
bigger and beyond, as I jog the steep
hill by the milking parlor, then down
the farm road, past the placid cows,
the open field, muttering about want,
always wanting to break out, be free


of my uptight, my don’t-have self,
whatever form it takes on any
particular day grievance or need
and do I even see the monarchs
and viceroys drifting over roadside
milkweed, unperturbed by my passing,
by the farm dog’s bark and growl?



I started slowly, took my time


because the doctor said, take it easy
after the cortisone shot. But the bridge was
just beyond her office, and I needed beauty.
So go ahead, she finally said, but slowly.
Before the water, on the embankment:
goldenrod, coreopsis, Queen Anne’s Lace.
And some kind of party last night, humans first
then gulls: a litter of cellophane scraps, smashed
peanuts, sunflower hulls, barbecue chips.
The tide was rolling in with the wind, three terns
(I think) were dipping down, catching things.
Rosehips, clover, tall grass, broken mussels,
dried seaweed. Because my hip still ached
and the shot needed to settle in, I walked slowly,
took my time, and Dickinson came to mind:
“I started EarlyTook my DogAnd visited
the Sea…,” which seemed to swamp, stun her.
“He,” she says, “He followed close behind,”
and I thought, my Love, how we walked this bridge
countless times, how I’m not the first woman
to grieve, to need the tide, need to see beyond
the dull ache of you now gone. Cracks and glitter
in the concrete. Sharp shadow of grass heads,
perfect replicas. I thought of all the journeys
the living take into the afterlife to embrace
those shades, how they grasp, and grasp again
only air. I went sadly, took a long time.
There was a breeze that wasn’t you, you weren’t
the tide, didn’t rise to meet me, you weren’t
the dandelions on the bank, the shadows,
the broken shells, the light, you weren’t there
or here, unless now to have you at all
I have to see you everywhere.


Morning’s Only Yellow

comes from the five sunflowers I bought last night
at the grocery, their shade on this gray day
not quite lemon, but brighter than mustard
so many varieties on the color chart
(olive, paradise, lion), like the wines, cereals,
cheeses, aisle after aisle, and the varieties
of shoppers as well: two firefighters, a young couple
counting their change, a drunk lurching
among juices, mumbling to a small girl who sat
in a cart with her doll while her mother
read labels. At the store’s dairy end two men
wearing muscle shirts and leather vests
strode in, one holding a newborn cradled in his arm
like a football, swinging it back and forth.
The infant was half the length from elbow to wrist,
still in his blue hospital cap. A woman
in slippers shuffled behind, and I followed to see
what would become of that child.
(Had they biked here, a sidecar for mother and baby?
Would a hospital release a child to that?)
At the checkout the firefighters’ two-way radio
squawked. The little girl was using
her new word, lellow, to point out to her doll
the lemons, bananas, Cheerios
her mother put on the counterand nothing else,
as if what she couldn’t name she didn’t see.
What I couldn’t not see was that man
swinging the baby as he gestured
toward bread or beer. Heavy boots, biker belt
the opposite of tender, I thought,
and so had to worry through the dazzle
of aisles, our bodies in slow forage.
But in the next checkout lane the baby slept
while the men piled their12-pack, diapers,
toilet paper and chips on the belt. His head
didn’t roll and his arms didn’t startle,
so he must have been held with more care
than I could see. Maybe he’ll be nothing
like the boy next door, who after school wanders
the yard tossing pebbles at his house
until his mother opens an upstairs window
to curse and threaten the belt. He turns
then to his sister, as if he can’t bear to see
her cradle her doll, singing, baby, baby.
Has to grab it and race through the yard
while she weeps. Has to threaten to toss it
over the fence and sometimes nearly does.
It hurts to think what he wants and can’t say
is to be that doll in somebody’s arms, rocked
until his fists loosen, his eyelids drop.
Lellow, lellow, the little girl sang her one word
for all the shades. Shades or words
do we ever have enough? Amber, citrine, marigold;
tender, delicate, lenient, supple, frail.

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.