By Elana Bell

This is for Amal, whose name means hope,
who thinks of each tree she’s planted like a child,
whose family has lived in the same place
for a hundred years, and when I say place
I mean this exact patch of land
where her father was born, and his father,
so that the shoots he planted before her birth
now sweep over her head. Every March
she plucks the green almonds and chews
their sour fuzzy husks like medicine.

I have never stayed anywhere long enough
to plant something and watch it settle into its bloom.
I am from a people who move.
Who crossed sea and desert and city
with stone monuments, with clocks, with palaces,
on foot, on skeleton trains, through barracks
with iron bunks, aching for a place we could stay.
All our prayers, all our songs for that place
where we had taken root once, where we had been
the ones to send the others packing and now—

Amal laughs with all her teeth and her feet
tickle the soil when she walks. She moves
through her land like an animal. She knows it
in the dark. She feeds stalks to the newborn
colt and collects its droppings like coins
to fertilize the field. Amal loves this land
and when I say land I mean this
exact dirt and the fruit of it
and the sheep who graze it and the children
who eat from it and the dogs who protect it
and the tiny white blossoms it scatters in spring.

And when I say love I mean Amal has never married.

All around her land the settlements sprout like weeds.
They block out the sun and suck precious water
through taps and pipes while Amal digs wells
to collect the rain. I am writing this poem
though I have never drunk rain
collected from a well dug by my own hands,
never pulled a colt through
the narrow opening covered in birth fluid
and watched its mother lick it clean,
or eaten a meal made entirely of things
I got down on my knees to plant.

And when I say settlement I mean
I love the red tiled roofs,
the garden in the shape of a garden,
water that comes when I call it forth
with the flick of my wrist and my hand on the tap.
Only lately I find that when I ache
it takes the shape of a well.
And when I bleed I emit a scent
something like a sheep in heat,
like dirt after rain,
like a patch of small white flowers
too wild to name.

(“On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm, Overlooking the Settlement of Neve Daniel” originally appeared in CALYX Journal Summer 2011 issue, Volume 26:3, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

See Elana Bell Read in New York 8/24/2011:
Rediscovering Literature by Women:
Readings by CALYX Authors
Elana Bell, Claudia Cortese, and Janlori Goldman
Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen St. New York, NY 10002
Wednesday August 24, 2011 at 7 P.M.

Elana Bell was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award for 2011. Her first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones, will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2012. Elana is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, and the Drisha Institute. Her work has recently appeared in Harvard Review, CALYX Journal, Bellevue Literary Review, and Storyscape. Elana has led creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, and for underserved high school students in Israel, Palestine, and throughout the five boroughs of New York City. She currently serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters and sings with the a cappella trio Saheli.

Editor’s Note: Peace poetry, like peace itself, is not always easy. An effective peace poem gets the reader thinking by pushing them to the edges of their own comfort zones, thereby shifting their stance, if only a little. Today’s poem pushes me to the edges of my own mindset, makes me a little uncomfortable, and leaves me thinking about Israeli Palestinian borders in a slightly altered way. Elana Bell has a true gift for this. Before the work she does, before who and what she stands for, I am humbled. But at the end of the day, the poem itself must capture me for me to share it here with you. When I first laid eyes on her words, Elana Bell had me at “the ache at the center of the world,” and today she blew me away with “Only lately I find that when I ache / it takes the shape of a well.”

Want to see more by and about Elana Bell?
Academy of American Poets
Harvard Review
Union Station


  1. “All around her land the settlements sprout like weeds.” Oh that a peaceful comfort would settle into the dirt and be gracious to its inhabitants, regardless of race, religion, gender … w/reverence and mutual respect for ALL the Tribe.


  2. I had just read Elana in the Harvard Review. She blew me away with her ghazal especially the line “climb into the pliable cave of my body”. And here she is again . . . thank you for posting this poem.


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