FROM EYES, STONES
By Elana Bell
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.
Once in a village that is burning
because a village is always somewhere burning
And if you do not look because it is not your village
it is still your village
In that village is a hollow child
You drown when he looks at you with his black, black eyes
And if you do not cry because he is not your child
he is still your child
All the animals that could run away have run away
The trapped ones make an orchestra of their hunger
The houses are ruin Nothing grows in the garden
The grandfather’s grave is there A small stone
under the shade of a charred oak Who will brush off the dead
leaves Who will call his name for morning prayer
Where will they—the ones who slept in this house and ate from this dirt—?
HOMELAND: A FABLE
They are the trees and we are the birds.
The birds have conquered the trees.
Now we’re saying to the trees:
We were trees before you were trees.
And the birds are saying: Well,
you’re birds now. You’ve been birds
for a really long time. And
you’re shitting on us.
Today’s poems are from Eyes, Stones, published by Louisiana State University Press, copyright © 2012 by Elana Bell, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
Eyes, Stones: In this debut collection, Elana Bell brings her heritage as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to consider the difficult question of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
The poems invoke characters inexorably linked to the land of Israel and Palestine. There is Zosha, a sharp-witted survivor whose burning hope for a Jewish homeland helps her endure the atrocities of the Holocaust. And there is Amal, a Palestinian whose family has worked their land for over one hundred years—through Turkish, British, Jordanian, and now Israeli rule. Other poems—inspired by interviews conducted by the poet in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and America—examine Jewish and Arab relationships to the land as biblical home, Zionist dream, modern state, and occupied territory.
(Description of Eyes, Stones courtesy of ElanaBell.com, with edits.)
Elana Bell is a poet, performer, and educator. Her first collection of poetry, 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.
Editor’s Note: I would like to present today’s post to you as a love story. Imagine one day a young poet sees a post come across her facebook news feed announcing the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award for poetry. Imagine this young poet loves Walt Whitman and wonders what sort of poet wins such a prestigious award. Imagine this young poet follows a link to the poem “Letter to Jerusalem,” reads the poem, and knows her life will never be the same again. Such is the power of poetry, I propose. I read the words “the ache at the center of the world,” and knew I was forever changed.
“Letter to Jerusalem” inspired me to dedicate an entry in this series to Israeli-Palestinian Peace Poetry. Through community—an idea crucial to the existence and flourishing of poetry—I reached out to Elana Bell and began a correspondence. This led to my featuring Elana on the series, and our friendship, which grew out of my unending awe of and respect for this immensely talented and dedicated artist, resulted in my attending the book release party for Eyes, Stones this past week in Brooklyn.
What I witnessed at the book release party was no less than true genius. Elana Bell has collaborated with theatrical, musical, and dance artists to transform Eyes, Stones into a performance piece of unrivaled beauty. The book itself, now officially released by Louisiana State University Press, is a heartbreaking work of true art in its own rite. This is a book that everyone should read. Poets, artists, performers, lovers of poetry, and those dedicated to bringing about peace in the middle east should read this book. But so, too, should Palestinians and Jews alike, no matter their political stance, because this is a book crafted to inspire and bring about peace. This is a book meant to open eyes, minds, and hearts, and I, like Elana Bell, hope that this is a book that will change the world. In its newest incarnation as a performance piece, Eyes, Stones has the ability to speak to new and greater audiences, and with my whole heart I look forward to seeing this work reach the far corners of the earth.
When selections from the live performance are available in video form, and when dates are announced for live performances of the work, I look forward to sharing the work of Elana Bell again, in yet another format, and continuing my dedication to promoting one of the most important pieces of political art of our time. It is an honor to share with you today the release of Eyes, Stones, and to feature the poem that made me fall in love and changed me forever.