Three Poems by Betsy Mars

The Redeemer
Rio de Janeiro, 1964

From atop the hutch in our rented apartment near Ipanema Beach
a congregation of saints and Jesus figurines attended me.

My father gathered these statues here and there,
who knows why, he an atheist and Jew.

Outside that enormous statue stood above the city,
a lightning rod upon the hunchback hill,
a view of Sugarloaf and the placid bay in his purview.

His wing-like soapstone arms encompassed everything:
the favelas, me at five years old eating fondue
in a honey-lit restaurant like a pharaoh.

We skirted beggars on our way back home,
rats the size of the cat who waited, snug and warm,
never wanting, basking in the shine
of Jesus and his obsidian eyes.


I Play Words With Friends Before Bed

Then I dream of words:
consonants before vowels:
qi, jo, xu, zed. And I build:
dojo, exude, dozed.

And still we play on,
completing each other’s thoughts,
making space or crowding in a corner of the board
until someone makes a sacrifice to open up the game

so we can go on shuffling our tiles,
fitting words to words,
no longer keeping score.


Death and Pedicures*

Once I feared fungi,
hang nails, cuticle clippers,
an overly enthusiastic callous removal;

now it’s breath,
despite the privilege of status,
the ability to look away

at the static on my phone
while someone kneels, pretends
devotion to the anointment of my feet.

I wince
at my newly sensitive heel.
My foot after all

this time
too tender for the touch of a stranger.
No matter how well-intentioned,
how in need of the work.

*written after listening to an interview with Ocean Vuong


Betsy Mars is a prize-winning poet, a photographer, and publishes an occasional anthology through Kingly Street Press. She is an assistant editor at Gyroscope Review. Poetry publications include Rise Up Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, New Verse News, Sky Island, and Minyan. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee. Betsy’s photos have been featured in RATTLE’s Ekphrastic Challenge, Spank the Carp, Praxis, and Redheaded Stepchild. She is the author of Alinea and co-author of In the Muddle of the Night with Alan Walowitz.

4 thoughts on “Three Poems by Betsy Mars

    1. Thank you! I see what you mean! I had an early awareness of having a kind of privilege, especially as compared to some of the poverty I witnessed in Rio. I’m grateful for the exposure which influences me to this day.

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