Eyes Stones

Israel from Both Sides: A Study in Pride and Humility

by Grady Harp

Elana Bell has, in this collection of poems EYES, STONES, captured the essential feelings of the people of Israel and Palestine. There are interminable arguments and dissertations and wars on who belongs in this area of the world – is Israel the God given home of the Jews or is it a created haven after the Holocaust as a refuge and sense of home for Jews who have been misplaced for centuries or is it the land where Palestinians have lived and known as home for an equal amount of time? To whom does the land belong and how do the people of the region view Israel? Elana Bell, a writer of poetry who has conducted poetry workshops for educators, women in prison, and high school students in Israel, Palestine and through out New York City, has as sensitive insight to the ongoing argument and the associated dichotomy of feelings as anyone writing today. Her poems alternate between the Jewish Israeli and the Palestinian voice and the result is rapturously beautiful and sensitive.

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 trees
grow over graves

Because the ruined promise
because two pounds of shrapnel drawn form Noam’s 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
because until the end of the world
we will scratch out the name

VISITING AUSCHWITZ

what scrap of bread
what glance from a slop-drunk SS
what rage raised the rusted shovel
struck it on the starving ground
until the whistle ended day
what muscle corded in the thighs
not buckling to the bed of lice of bloody flux
what propped her up when her bowels release
the spoiled cabbage soup and she couldn’t hold
her dead-weight head what switched the names
so she was not called what
scarf smuggled from the storage hull
a shred so she could wipe herself
what song muffled in the dark
what glint willed her breath
what saw her and said live
Toward the end of this powerful collection Elana Bell writes in a retrospective fashion a work that ties much of her book together:

LETTER TO BROOKLYN

When I come home to you, I’ll watch the Super Bowl. I’ll buy waterproof boots if it rains and sheepskin gloves for my cold hands. I’ll eat organic greens and make love on Saturday afternoon when no one is in a rush. I’ll listen to jazz in a tight-packed club with red lipstick on to tease the man behind the bar. I’ll sigh about the candidates for president – it’s all hot air – but clench a secret hope, so secret I’m not even sure it’s there. And at night, after a glass of wine and the internet, I will sleep on clean cotton sheets – In my dreams there’s a knock on the wind. Someone drags me from my feast and paints a mask of open sky over my eyes, then ropes my wrists and ties me to a tree. I twist but I can’t fly. And no one comes to save me.

Poets such as Elana Bell offer us a plain on which to examine a long unanswered puzzle and in doing so she brings so many political and sociological insights that we almost forget to notice what a brilliant poet she is.

Grady Harp, July 2012

TITLE: EYES STONES
AUTHOR: ELANA BELL
PUBLISHER: Louisiana State University Press
ISBN: 9780807144640

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