Before you had a name,

when you were skin stitched to bone and a pulsing

box in the center of the cavity. Begin. You are a child,

balancing on the edge of a black pond, on the edge

of falling. Begin before the falling. Before you took

another body into your body through the oldest wound.


Begin before soldiers, which is to say boys with rifles.

Boys with rifles they stroke like women. And the bodies

that fall like sacks of flour to the earth. Begin before the tide

of bodies, salt stripped from the sea.

Before the web with its million wired eyes

burrowing into human dirt, into the woman

with no teeth who squats at the side of the road, her palm

open, her mouth that swallows the light.


Begin before the dawn.

Hang the iron kettle over the blue fire

and wait for the water to bubble. There is a book

that tells the story of who wins and who loses. Begin before

who gets swallowed by the sea and who burns.

Before the ships crammed with human meat.

Before ships crammed with human meat that all the countries

turned away. Begin when no one turned away.


We are losing our sight. The dark water rising and our blood-

trail covers the sky, so no birds—

There was a world before this one: a seed

swallowed in mud. Begin before the beginning

of days. Before the water separated

from the water. Before God

in his exquisite loneliness

asked to be named.

Elana Bell

Elana Bell strives to create a space where all people’s voices and stories are heard and deeply valued.  Elana’s first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stoneswas selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Her work has recently appeared in AGNI, Harvard Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Elana leads creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, for high school students in Israel-Palestine and throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as for the pioneering peace building and leadership organization, Seeds of Peace. She was a finalist for the inaugural Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, an award which recognizes and honors a poet doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change.

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