What else to call the way the bare branchesI’d bought at the neighborhood bodegacame back to life that winter.I’d carried them home—dry, wrappedin paper—stuck them in the square vase,and, as an afterthought, filled it with water.I don’t know when I noticed the palepink shoots sprouting from the submergedends: wild, reaching roots, like ginseng, or the hairon an old woman’s chin. Then tiny greenleaves began to appear at the tips,curling over themselves with the sheer effortof growing.I thought they were dead.And now I recall being in the gripof a darkness I did not have a name forand didn’t think I’d survive. I could tryto describe it for you now: the nightsI woke with my pulse pounding through,the heaviness of each breath,how the effort of being inside my bodyfelt like burning—What I really want to tell you is this:how, in the parch of that long drought,the people I loved kept bringing me water.Water.Though I turned my back, and did not answerto my name, though I flung the cup away—Let me say it plain: I wanted to die.But something in me, some tiny bulbstill alive under all that rotted wood,kept drinking, kept right on drinking.
“Miracle” from MOTHER COUNTRY: by Elana Bell.
Published by BOA Editions October 2020.
Copyright © 2020 by Elana Bell.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Elana Bell is a poet, sound practitioner, and creative guide. She facilitates artistic rituals and processes that support people in accessing their authentic voice and alchemizing raw experience and emotion into artistic expression. She is the author of Mother Country (BOA Editions, 2020), poems about motherhood, fertility, and mental illness. Elana’s debut collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones (LSU Press, 2012), received the 2011 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, and brings her complex heritage as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to consider the difficulties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Elana is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Brooklyn Arts Council. Her writing has appeared in AGNI, Harvard Review, and The Massachusetts Review, among others. She was an inaugural finalist for the Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, an award that recognizes and honors a poet who is doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change. In addition to facilitating her own Creative Fire workshops, Elana teaches poetry to actors at the Juilliard School and sings with the Resistance Revival Chorus, a group of women activists and musicians committed to bringing joy and song to the resistance movement. https://www.elanabell.com/
“Mother Country is a breathtaking and mythical account of the complex, everyday, and porous realms of death and birth. With lyrical, imagistic intelligence and unwavering precision, Bell writes the deaths of her unborn children, her grandmother, versions of herself and of her mother. The result is a steadfast and achingly clear record of a woman's mother-route, which, among other things, traces the shape of her own mother's life and illness. She writes: ‘Through the dark I feel my mother's wild eye.’ And: ‘My mother was a dead doll I held her / hand in the land of the dead / and did not turn away...’ Gravid with loss, Bell's is a haunting, vital, songful work, and it does not turn away.”
—Aracelis Girmay, author of Kingdom Animalia, finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award
“Mother Country provides us passage through the many portals of what it means to be, alternately, dependent upon or responsible for another’s nurture. And like the experience itself, these poems are both comforting and terrifying. Elana Bell has put to language an experience so intrinsic to its moments, I did not know how it might be brought to life in a poem. One leaves these poems changed, even healed, by their beauty and deep humanity. This book is not just for mothers. It’s for everyone."
—Cate Marvin, author of Oracle and co-founder VIDA: Women in Literary Arts