What else to call the way the bare branches
I’d bought at the neighborhood bodega
came back to life that winter.
I’d carried them home — dry, wrapped
in paper — stuck them in the square vase,
and, as an afterthought, filled it with water.
I don’t know when I noticed the pale
pink shoots sprouting from the submerged
ends: wild, reaching roots, like ginseng, or the hair
on an old woman’s chin. Then tiny green
leaves began to appear at the tips,
curling over themselves with the sheer effort
I’d thought they were dead.
And now I recall being in the choke
of a fog I did not have a name for
and didn’t think I’d survive. I could try
to describe it for you now: the nights
I woke with my pulse pounding through,
the heaviness of each breath,
how the effort of being inside my body
felt like burning —
But 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.
Though I turned my back, and did not answer
to my name, though I flung the cup away —
Let me say it plain: I wanted to die.
But something in me, some tiny bulb
still alive under all that rotted wood,
kept drinking, kept right on drinking.
Added: Monday, December 16, 2019 / Used with permission.
Elana Bell’s debut collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones, was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of 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 difficult question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her second book of poems, Mother Country, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2020. 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 many journals, including AGNI, Harvard Review, and The Massachusetts Review. 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. For more, please visit her website.