If I Lost You

Marvin Bell (1937 – 2020)

Anybody can write a poem saying evil is no good…. If you want people to read socio-political poetry, if you really want it to have an effect, maybe you should write prose poems because prose poems don’t scare off people afraid of poetry.

Marvin Bell

To Dorothy

by Marvin Bell

You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.

A child said it, and it seemed true:
“Things that are lost are all equal.
“But it isn’t true. If I lost you,
the air wouldn’t move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn’t be yours. If I lost you,
I’d have to ask the grass to let me sleep.

Marvin Bell met his wife in Chicago.  He was a single father at the time and working on his Master’s degree.   The two of them formed a lifelong partnership, determined to define their relationship as a commitment each and every day.   They did not marry until after many years of living together and it wasn’t until their son was 30 that he asked that Dorothy to adopt him.   The sonnet above was of course written by Bell to his wife.   One wonders if the child he refers to in line eight is his son?   I agree with Bell, there are lots of people in this world that are not equal if they are lost in the hearts of at least one other person.   Who are the people in your life that are irreplaceable, unique, invaluable?

Bell’s quotes on writing poetry sound like the kind of professorial splendor one would expect from a master teacher.   It’s hard to pick just one from the many interviews and essays he has written on the subject.  But here are a few:

“I’ll tell you right now the secrets of writing poetry. … First, one learns to write by reading. … Number two, I believe that language, compared to the materials of other art forms, has only one thing going for it: the ability to be precise. … And the third and most important secret is that, if you do anything seriously for a long time, you get better at it.”

Marvin Bell



Well, poetry is a manifestation of a life. It can show us the diversity of cultures, and of individual inner wiring, and teach us empathy, it can express what conventional language cannot, perhaps even be life-saving. On the other hand, it’s just poetry

Marvin Bell


by Marvin Bell

We need to think of what might grow in the field
from our ashes, from the rot of our remains,
from tillage and spoilage, from the watery corn
plowed under. We need to picture lilies of the valley
and the hard weeds on the mountain haloed by clouds,
and the minutest beads of water as they roll up
into raindrops to replenish what we relinquished
through expiration. We have been breathing-in
the wild rosebuds and the spoor left by those who
avoid us, we have been to the sea and the forest
to learn who we are, and it is time to say yes
to the intangible reach of our being, the stirring
that sifts, pans and rearranges the billion parts
of us, who once thought we were goners.

Published by

A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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