This is my first blog post of what I intend to be a monthly post of poems written by our friend Sue and illustrated by me, Sylvia Arthur.
When Jay and I last visited Sue, she was in the late stages of cancer. Despite her illness, or perhaps because of it, she was still feeling that she had so much creative work to finish. As Sue and I flipped through her collection of poems we came across a poem about “Betty”, who was a street person often seen in downtown Calgary during the 80s.
I thought it was an amazing coincidence that while I was attending ACAD, I also photographed and drew Betty. I was touched and intrigued by the street people of Calgary and drew them often.
Sue loved to share her creative gifts with others through collaboration, jamming, or just getting each other’s creative juices flowing. Sue and I thought it would be a wonderful collaboration to combine her poetry with my illustrations. I told her I would carry on with this project. I promised. So, here’s to you Sue. We will combine our talents in the hope of creating something twice as meaningful and beautiful. Your talent inspires me even after you are gone.
Betty the Dancer
I used to see her on the walk
shaking her red looped dress.
She was a dancer.
We called her “Betty the Dancer.”
In the day they paid big bucks for a glimpse of her;
fine costumes with sequins and pearls,
she was a looker,
you could see it under the wrinkles
and heavy make up.
No one knew this
strange old woman.
Most thought she was crazy,
just another loonie walking the streets.
She used to tell me how she dined
in all the chic places in the twenties and thirties,
when most of these fool’s father’s stood in line at the soup kitchen
and begged for jobs.
She says she “still can”
dine there “after hours,”
no chandeliers and wine,
but she can still “have filet anytime”
with her back-stage passes.
She keeps herself slim
because “a dancer must be fit!”
Leaping out of dumpsters is hard work for a sixty year old.
They’ve closed down all but one of the dance companies in Canada now.
Betty told me, I wasn’t up on that too much.
Claimed it was a lack of support for artists
of her caliber.
They said she was too old,
Needed younger girls to attract sponsors.
No one wants to see a big production anymore.
Corporations don’t want to spend the dough.
When they look at her and laugh,
Betty doesn’t care.
She’s still dancing.