©Andrena Zawinski, 2009

©Andrena Zawinski, 2009


When things break
it’s no one’s fault, according to Neruda
but still, there is a sadness.

It used to be we mended things –
darned socks and hammered out bent forks.
But now we throw out cracked pottery,
frames with smashed glass,
three-legged chairs;
sofas sagging from squashed coils
we leave curbside for scavengers.

But Grandma Oberg’s chipped Haviland platter,
tiny pink daisies, green leaves and thin gold rim faded,
rests safely hidden, far back on the top shelf
of the lead glass cupboard.
And always there is a jar of stashed pens
which will never write again,
or a child’s rocker  languishing in the garage
waiting for glue and clamps
and in the backs of drawers
jewelry with broken clasps and chains,
old watches that won’t work,
something in the intricate system of gears gone wrong.
Now there are no watchmakers to fix them
and only  the digital sort to buy
with throw-away batteries.

I confess I am part of the conspiracy
to save these broken things.
It is some sentimental streak,
some sensed affinity,
some softness in me that perhaps
should have hardened by now.
But I know that others too
have hope for what is wounded, thrown away,
that I am not alone in this
reluctance to give up
on things
that suggest the possibility of salvage
of rescue and repair.


Oh come to me, spirit of Neruda,
you with your transcendental glue of odes
welding oceans and eyes,
watermelons and trees,
kisses and poppies, love and dead doves.
Help me mend everything, make what’s broken whole,
sew up the doll ripped in two, stop the tears,
place babies  breathing again back into arms of grieving mothers,
sling up the fallen stars in fiery arcs,
restore the plundered forests with fragrant sap,
put hand in hand all the lovers torn asunder by accident or fatal illness,
by the ignorance of thoughtless words or the larger stupidity of war.


But your brown eyes, pools of sorrow,
tell me what I know I know,
that stripped threads won’t turn tight
and gears of living things unmeshed
can’t always be repaired.
What’s past is past
and time rolls
though we beat against it.
We must know when dreams are only dreams.

Yet I will not give up entirely.
Neruda, I feel you there beside me.

©Judy Bebelaar, 2009

Judy Bebelaar found the summer institute of 1986 a life-changing experience. She taught in San Francisco schools for 37 years, loving almost every day, and now enjoys hosting the BAWP Writing Teachers Write reading series at the Nomad Café (4th Wednesdays at 5). Mornings, she tries to write, heads out to weed the garden, writes some more and then finds some silly household chore to distract her. She’s considering tying herself to her computer chair. You may contact Judy at jbebelaar@pacbell.net if you’re interested in reading at the café.

16 Responses to “Ode to Broken Things by Judy Bebelaar”

  1. janet Says:

    Lovely, melancholy homage to the broken things of life, which often become our most cherished, don’t they.

  2. Jeanne W Says:

    Fantastic poem encompassing the whole range of “brokeness.”

  3. Paula Gocker Says:

    What a beautiful poem-full of the difficulty of knowing what can’t or won’t be fixed and our stubborn hope (and work) toward mending.

  4. Kathleen Cecil Says:

    Mending anything supplies such satisfaction, such engagement with things in the world… a critical piece of the fabric of things lost to “progress”….as a teacher I like to think that when students are revising their own work they are mending and thus saving something they might otherwise toss aside…….lovely piece Judy, thanks, Kathleen

  5. Bruce Greene Says:

    What a wonderful, thought-provoking poem. Yes, Neruda is a good companion for this venture. Maybe our disposable culture can mend itself after all.
    Thanks for the kind words too.

  6. jblevine Says:

    I enjoyed this poem so much I read it twice.

  7. room11soars Says:

    A provocative poem that immediately made me think of the way we deal with “broken” things as a metaphor for the way we treat each other.

  8. Tom Dunlap Says:

    Image after striking image! Neruda should be proud of you, Judy!

  9. Deb Says:

    So many powerful images. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Tureeda Says:

    Amazing how you’ve captured the realms of loss.

  11. Irv Rothstein Says:

    Bittersweet the thing we do clinging to the old hoping to recreate a past memory.
    Time moves on and takes us with it on a path to forever.
    Judy. I hope this reaches you. If you get the chance e-mail me your phone number or e-mail address.
    I’d like to get in touch.

  12. Kimberley Gilles Says:

    Oh, Judy! I melted as I read your poem. It will now find a place in a collection of poems I am gathering for my seniors for National Poetry Month. I’ll tell you all about it when I next see you. 🙂

    Thank you, Wise Spirit.


  13. Tanya Tressler (Vieglais) Says:

    Judy, this is Tanya – I used to babysit for your daughter many years ago – in Berkeley back around 1967 – I lived down the street from you (my father was a Russian Orthodox priest) at the church on Adeline and Essex. Remember me? I was browsing through internet and caught your name. You are doing so well as I imagined – drop me a line sometime at tresslertanya@yahoo.com – would love to hear from you!!!

  14. Patrick Gallagher Says:

    In this poem you have beautifully captured the sentiments of our friend JoAnn, and many others too.

  15. Kathryn Fonash Says:

    Touched me , thank you.

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