Susan Birkeland Poetry

January 18, 1961 ~ Nov. 18 2006)


Dancing with balloons in the smoke

for Susan Birkeland


the poems in your chapbook shivered
when the news came over the grapevine,
like leaves smelling smoke on the wind
they knew they were soon to be orphaned
and the gossip grapevine
became the grief of grapes
shedding tears with the wine
as a million men's hearts broke
unable to believe you were really dead
and finally out of reach

you were the bubbling blond girl
who danced and flirted her way through childhood
until your childhood melted away
and we got your adulthood,
the petite woman
whose hair still curled beautifully out of control

in your basement apartment
you were an anchor for this rocking city
but another San Francisco anchor
has sunk out of sight
now that you're gone
and this town is bellying upward
a little more lost
a little more out of control
and much lonelier
because you brought back our own childhoods
you encouraged all of us
to dance with balloons
and taught us
it was okay
to let the balloons float away
as a gift to the sky

you hosted theatre and poetry at Venue 9
once wearing a floor length gown
filled with flowers and attitude
that only a goddess like you
could get away with
but when you performed there
the goddess gave way
and you alone filled the spotlight to capacity
snapping worded pictures
into your audience's mind
until the scrapbook
each of us needed
was filled with you

you hosted the Sweetie's open mike
and were the best damned host around
nobody knew who you liked
or who you didn't like,
everybody was welcomed
with your sweet smart smile
the tall man and the reverend
were ushered to the microphone
and even the best drunk poet in town
couldn't argue with your secret smile

I met my 2nd partner
under your hosting smile
that flirted with every male
whether you meant to or not,
you gave us pride
at our three way wedding
reading a poem at the open mike
that sent birds into the sky
and caused astonished faces
to stand up and take notice

but I also remember your other poems
that were detailed maps for a human life
or keyed words to unlock a heart,
so much danced between your lines
there was a foreign snapshot poem of yours
that left me tunneling through my own dreams
all night long
looking for the enslaved face
of the child who owned that poem

you even wrote a poem about the cancer doctor
who was so casual about the cancer in your breast
that ate into the wings of your lungs
not letting you catch your breath
taking away that beautiful voice
and he was so casual with his assumptions
assuming that at 42 you couldn't still want kids
or you would have had them already
but you were still filled with plans
still had dreams and balloons
to release to the sky
you weren't ready to give up on life
even if life had given up on you
but we won't
we'll never give up on you
we owe you so much Suzie
and now we'll have to stumble on without you
but we know how to now
because you taught us all
how to dance

©Debra Grace Khattab 11/29/06

Debra Grace Khattab is an outstanding poet and has been published online and in print, most recently in the 9/11 Anthology called An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind edited by Allen Cohen. Her poetry often appears in magazines such as , Words On A Wire, Writer’s Choice Literary Zine, A Room Without Walls, Sacred River, Sonoma Mandala and Blue Buildings.
Debra is also the gracious hostess of the Word Beat poetry series in Berkeley and her web site is WORD BEAT.