October 2006


Stella Beratlis: Poet, Activist, Mom

Iíve been writing poetry since grade school, but only began to write in earnest about 5 years ago, when, pregnant with daughter Demetra, I was invited by friend Gillian Wegener to be a part of The Licensed Fools, a local poetry group.

Since then Iíve been a part of several group readings in Modesto, and one of my poems was recently published in Song of the San Joaquin. Last March I created an anthology of poetry for The Licensed Fools, and I am looking forward to producing small runs of unusual-looking booklets or chapbooks featuring other peopleís writing and art.

The daughter of a butcher and a Greek immigrant, Iíve been influenced by the following: growing up in suburbia; coming of age during Reaganís first presidential term; people who thrive in spite of dangerous childhoods; dropping out of college; the ERA; public and commercial radio; abortion rights (counter-picketing a Modesto anti-choice demonstration in 1990 with mom); realizing that the squeaky chipping sound I always heard was actually hummingbirds vocalizing; high school speech and debate; the public library; and fuzzy, hard-to-decipher currents that float around somewhere in that mix.

After earning my MA in English literature from Arizona State University, I worked for a few years as an adjunct faculty in the Language and Literature Division at MJC. I left one kind of teaching for another when I began working at the Stanislaus County Free Library. Soon I was working as volunteer coordinator at Read-Succeed, the library-sponsored adult literacy program.

During my time with Read-Succeed I tutored two literacy students and came to realize that basic literacy - learning to read and write as an adult - also led to greater civic engagement for most of our students, many of whom had never read a sample voting ballot before. My interest in civic literacy led me to the League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County where Iím the webmaster of our local website, www.lwvmodesto.org. I hope to be soon trained as a moderator so I can be more involved in election-time candidate forums.

I live in Modesto with my husband, James Paras, and our five-year-old daughter, Demetra. I manage a local online job board. James owns Modesto Kumon Center, and Demetra is starting kindergarten soon. We live down the street from the cemeteries on Scenic Drive, where we frequently stroll to enjoy the excellent variety of trees and marvel at the Woodmen of America headstones.

Cultural Anthropology

Where acres divide
and subdivide
that's where I lived.
With dusty front yards, trenchers at the ready
o dig channels, lay miles of pipe

On the next block nothing
but fields of yellow straw and foxtail whips
dirt tracks and spindly pine, eucalyptus-
and garbage piles heaved over suburban fences.

Along the outlines of human habitat
is where we sifted for goods-
in majestic cones of garbage
one might find sharp broken tiles
rusty nails harboring tetanus
deadly fist-sized mortar chunks
spiky rebar threads
and the occasional beer pull tab.

Crusted saliva from who knows where
ready for DNA testing
a chip of dirt-marbled dinner plate poised to hurl and slice
next to the stiff pelt of the neighbor's missing cat.

A pleasant town, a town of progress
where acres divide
and divide again.

Raisin Queen

I want to be
the raisin queen of Fresno
and I'm taking concrete steps to get there.

All these years later
still have that crazed feeling
you know what I mean?

I can take a leave of absence
tell them I've hiked the Appalachian trail--
don't look for me I've disappeared in-country.

I can go to Flagstaff there's a good store there
save some money then maybe
cross a national border.

To live in my pickup in Moab
all I need is baloney and beer,
sensible shoes,
and one of my dead fathers.

I'm taking concrete steps to get there.

Hawk moth

O, to live like some larvae:
to fold up neatly into one self
to wrap up
then exfoliate
the past forgive
what is to come
give birth
to one's own
A five-spot wing,

Carve a snake

Carve a snake out of a word-wood-worm,
broadcast a pouch of poppy seeds.
We're cooking, my cancer cheek,
working you hard, work off your ass,
bury it in thorns of garden clubs

and civic frowning. The thumb that holds
you down also wields the handy rake.
We're cooking now, my cancer cheek,
no time for breaking up or down,

breathe in smothered in pollen the bee's syrup buzz.