Editor’s Note: In response to last week’s feature, Saturday Poetry Series favorites Erin Lyndal Martin and Elana Bell introduced me to two more fabulous mermaid poems. These poems have been swimming through my mind all week, and are too fantastic not to share. Get a taste here, then follow the links below to read each of these stunning poems in full.

By Pablo Neruda, Translated by Paul Weinfield

But having come from the river, she understood nothing
She was a mermaid and was lost
Their insults flowed down her perfect, smooth flesh
Their filth enveloped her golden breasts
But not knowing tears, she did not weep tears

(Read the complete poem as translated by Paul Weinfield.)

By Elana Bell

I kiss

the puckered lips, taste
ocean breath and remember

myself, slippery and long
under sun-slanted depths, swaying

to the whine of boats overhead.
I did not need you then, my scales

shining in their pristine sea.

(Read the entire poem in Winter Tangerine.)

Want to read more?
“Sunday Morning” in Winter Tangerine
“Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks” as translated by Paul Weinfeild
“Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks” in English and Spanish via Susan’s Place
“Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks” on youtube, as read by Ethan Hawke

Today’s selections appear via Fair Use.


"Arab Motherhood" by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.
“Arab Motherhood” by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.

Editor’s Note: In honor of Mother’s Day, I have gathered together some of my favorite poems that I’ve featured on this series over the years that consider motherhood from a plethora of perspectives, for motherhood is such a multi-faceted experience. From the perspective of the child: memories of mothers, good mothers, bad mothers, absent mothers, mothers we have lost. From the perspective of the mother, of the would-be-mother, of the once-was mother: pregnancy and childbirth, love and fear of and for our children, the kind of mother we are or are not, the kind of mother we want to be, the children we never had, the children we have lost.

Today’s selection is in honor of motherhood itself and its many faces, in honor of that imperative person without whom none of us would exist and who–for better or worse–so deeply affects who we come to be.

Today’s post is dedicated to my own mother, who has always been one of my most dedicated readers and faithful supporters, who has shaped my being from zygote through womanhood, and whose legacy as mother takes on its newest incarnation on this, my first Mother’s Day as a mother.

Mother, I’m trying
to write
a poem to you

which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I’ve wanted
to say, Mother
…but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them.

–Erin Belieu,
“Another Poem for Mothers”


“Elegy for a Mother, Still Living” by Elana Bell

“Cultiver Son Potager / Growing Vegetables” by Dara Barnat; translated by Sabine Huynh

“Prayers Like Shoes” by Ruth Forman

“We Speak of August” by Valentina Gnup

State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies by Alexis Rhone Fancher

“A Poem for Women Who Don’t Want Children” by Chanel Brenner

“Baby” by Jaimie Gusman

“Psalm to Be Read While My Daughter Considers Mary” by Nicole Rollender

Hemisphere by Ellen Hagan

“Labor Pantoum” by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

“Depression” by Terri Kirby Erickson

“Dinner for the Dying” by Jen Lambert

Decency by Marcela Sulak

Little Spells by Jennifer K. Sweeney

“The Invention of Amniocentesis” by Jen Karetnick

“The Sadness of Young Mothers” by Richard D’Abate

“Mom’s Cocks” by Jenna Le

“The Balance” by Danusha Laméris

“The Committee Weighs In” by Andrea Cohen

“Mother-In-Law” by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell

“Change of Address” by Ruth Deborah Rey

Want to read more Mother’s Day poems?
Mother’s Day poetry from the Academy of American Poets
Poetry about mothers from the Academy of American Poets



By Elana Bell:


         The Lord gives everything and charges by taking it back. —Jack Gilbert

I was formed inside the body
of a woman who wanted me
as she wanted her own life,
allowed to drink the milk
made only for me.
I was given mother-love,
its bounty and its cocoon
of those first years without language.
It is right to mourn the rocky hills
of Crete where we walked, my small
hand in hers for hours. The hidden
beach where we swam naked
then baked on the fine sand. Lazy
afternoons in her lap, thick
hand stroking my curls.
Her fingers have stiffened.
In her eyes, the eyes of an animal in pain.
I hold the memory of my mother
against the woman she is.

Today’s poem was originally published by AGNI and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Elana Bell’s first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones (LSU Press 2012) was 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 recent finalist for Split This Rock’s inaugural Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, an award which recognizes and honors a poet who is doing innovative and transformative work at the intersection of poetry and social change. Elana also teaches literature and creative writing at CUNY College of Staten Island and curates public art installations with Poets in Unexpected Places.

Editor’s Note: If I have learned anything from reading Li-Young Lee and Ocean Vuong, it is that great poetry changes the reader. Whenever I read Elana Bell, I am deeply moved in the moment. Many poems do this, and many make it into the pages of this series. But today’s poet has always moved me far beyond the moment of reading. Her words stay with me. Weeks, months, years later, her poems are still a part of me, as if they are my own memories. Once I have read an Elana Bell poem, I have been forever changed.

I first heard the poet read “Elegy for a Mother, Still Living” at NYC’s Bluestockings nearly four years ago, and the poem has never left me. A year later, I wrote “Elegy for the Still Living: Father Cannot Stand Still”, a mourning poem for my father’s illness, named in homage to today’s poem. Years have passed. My father has passed. No elegy I write for him will ever again be “for the still living.” But “Elegy for a Mother, Still Living” remains with me, a memory of a different time, a different kind of mourning.

When I came across today’s poem in AGNI, it was like coming across an old photograph. A commemoration of my own past. A memory like an artifact, layer upon layer of personal significance buried between the lines of someone else’s words, someone else’s experience, someone else’s life. And yet, by the gifted hand of the poet, someone else’s experience has become my own. I am reminded of a line from the musical Wicked: “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? (I do believe I have been changed for the better.) But, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Want more from Elana Bell?
Elana Bells’ Official Website
Academy of American Poets
P.O.P. (Poets on Poetry) Shot and edited by poet and photographer Rachel Eliza Griffiths, P.O.P is a video series featuring contemporary American poets who read both an original poem and a poem by another poet, after which they reflect on their choice.
Poets in Unexpected Places
Buy Eyes, Stones
Reading on PBS


                                   Cover illustration of Eyes, Stones: Threshold, by Kate Quarfordt

By Elana Bell


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—?


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, 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.

Want to see more by Elana Bell?
Buy Eyes, Stones from
Elana Bell’s Official Website


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


Editor’s Note: Peace is always a timely topic. Today much of the middle east is in a state of political unrest. Civil wars are raging, dictators are struggling to keep the masses under their control, and citizens are taking up arms – be they in the form of guns or words – in the name of freedom. Having been born in Israel, the daughter of Israel-Palestine peace activists, conflict in the middle east has been a reality in my life for thirty years. I believe peace in the middle east is not only possible, but is an eventual reality, for Israel-Palestine and beyond.

Throughout history, poets have used their poems and songs in the name of peace. Today, rather than share a particular poem with you, I want to share with you some of my favorite Israel-Palestine peace poets. May their energy, their words, and their efforts help to bring forth peace.

Yehuda Amichai

Elana Bell

Mahmoud Darwish

Naomi Shihab Nye