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 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.