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Elana Bell

Born in Venice Beach, California, Elana Bell received a bachelor of arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 1999. She returned to Sarah Lawrence for graduate study and received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2008.

Her manuscript, Eyes, Stones, was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award, and was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2012.

She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Drisha Institute.

Bell has conducted poetry workshops for educators, women in prison, teenagers across the country and abroad, as well as for the Arab Jewish Peace Organization.

She currently serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters and resides in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, writer Jai Chakrabarti.

Elana Bell
Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

By This Poet

7

Naming the land

Because we named the land in blood and ink
and everything held by the land
to our use     we named—
                                        dirty with the name—

because we bought this land
when ash became sky
and the smell of burning
                              drifted

because my grandmother dreamed it
instead of eating death
and now new trees 
grow over the graves

because the ruined promise
because two pounds of shrapnel drawn from Noams back
because Salim's house forced open like a jaw
a bag of pita scattered where the kitchen was

because we can survive in any soil
like rats
because until the end of the world
we will scratch out the name

Letter to Jerusalem

To hold the bird and not to crush her, that is the secret. Sand turned too quickly to cement and who cares if the builders lose their arms? The musk of smoldered rats on sticks that trailed their tails through tunnels underground. Trickster of light, I walk your cobbled alleys all night long and drink your salt. City of bones, I return to you with dust on my tongue. Return to your ruined temple, your spirit of revolt. Return to you, the ache at the center of the world.

Flags

                                We have put up many flags,
                                they have put up many flags.
                                To make us think that they are happy.
                                To make them think that we are happy.
                                                                     —Yehuda Amichai

Everywhere, in the fertile soil of this land, 
we've planted flags. Flags sprout like the hair
from an old man's nostrils. Blue and white 
or red, black, green and white, they shroud 
windows, standing in for a family 
you can't see: a flag instead of the mother 
who hums and spices the lentils, a flag 
for father, who runs the blade against his cheek
each morning with the rooster's kukuku. 
Later, in the dark, he holds his wife 
while the children sleep wrapped in flags. 
Flags grow in the garden, flags from the beaks
of muted birds. Shredded flags drape phone wires, 
flags hang from the pines like dead hands—