Virginia Bell

[There’s that other Mom whose son really went through with it.], Reading Tolstoy at Twenty-One, and Crocus Vernus: Virginia Bell

[There’s that other Mom whose son really went through with it.]

There’s that other Mom whose son really went through with it.
Succeeded, as they say. [Insert statistic that more women/
girls attempt each year, but more men/boys succeed.] That
other Mom gets up every day to post prize-winning photos
of food on Facebook while I can’t fall asleep, can’t fall asleep,
can’t—is that what I am, a Mom? Palindrome of lost boundaries?
[Insert etymology of the word mother which asserts that
the “m” sound is universal for the desire to suck.] I’m too hot.
I’m too cold. I’m hungry so I tell my son to eat: strawberries
staged on French toast, the syrup running like tears, in lighting
neither too dark nor washed out so all the pitted pores
and tiny hairs catch the eye. So, the redness is the redness
of an open heart during surgery. What I mean is that empathy
is a lie. Mother. Moth/Her. Chimera, fata morgana, me.

Reading Tolstoy at Twenty-One

    after Dante Di Stefano’s “Reading Dostoyevsky at Seventeen”

In those days, my dreams always changed the ending
and I hated to wake up to a cold
Wisconsin morning, like Anna kissing
Karenin with the smell of Count Vronsky

still in her hair. I craved borscht, pickled onions,
black ermine muffs. That was the week
of my wisdom teeth extraction,
the week on Percocet—alone on a futon on the floor.

I grew bored with Anna and fell in love
with Levin’s story instead. That was a scythe
singing through the wheat, a chipped blue bowl
of kasha and warm goat milk. That was the promise

of babies we would have one day. The train
un-blowing its whistle, like a long, careful inhale—
that was the part where I got up, and,
finding your hand, stood again,

not knowing we would ever arrive here,
precisely, here, our son storming out of the house
into the snow. With no shoes on.
We don’t know how his story turns out.

Crocus Vernus

Gardening manuals are effusive
about the Spring Crocus:
a naturalizer that

multiplies, spreads,
and is easily forced.
It can be tricked

into growing out of season—
but I hate to garden.
I only walk
in early March when crocuses
purple from the snow,
wild genitalia that tentacle

out and up like squid, or
like my teacher in U.S. History sitting
cross-legged on his desk,

taking on and off his glasses,
stopping each time to lick his fingertips
and wet the corners of his eyes.

He pointed a long finger at me demanding
the history of Virginia.
Because of my name.

I reddened,
couldn’t answer.
The crocus was imported
from the Far East to Holland circa 1330
to crush into dye
and then to America

in the 17th Century
to beautify
Virginia settlers’—

that is, plantation masters’—
homes. It has only six petals
while a milk-white
giant squid has two tentacles
and eight arms—a demonic decapod—
the Ancients thought.

Although calimarium is only
Latin for inkpot.
I remember the stains

on the teacher’s fingers when later he picked up
a hard-boiled egg and bit into it
shell and all, hard and soft crumbs tumbling

down his wool sweater vest. The trees outside
held their branches down by
their sides
as limp arms. Virginian John Custis the 4 th advises
that if any of your chattel tries
to drink poison:

Crocus is cheap, I take it to be[e] the best vomit in the world.
Doesn’t the word—/ˈkrōkəs/—
sound like an emetic?

Or a human being
trying to die?
Archeologists have found

human bones
flimsy with holes—
skeletal sieves–
evidence of working to death.
What should I have said to that teacher if I didn’t—
baby squid—

yet know all this?
That the name honored the ‘virgin’ queen,
that in 1609 Virginia denoted

an enormous stretch of coastline from Newfoundland
to Florida and all the fields in between,
that the Virginia Company

claimed to rescue the ‘fallow’ verdant land
violently ravished
by her own[e]
rude natives? I have heard that if you begin
walking in Florida
in late February

and head North at just the right pace
you can experience Spring
for six months.

Just imagine! Fields purpling and purpling,
petals closing and opening
and closing and–
forget the squid
and its big white head,
eyes large as dinner plates.

The crocus corm is a stem swollen
with reserves. Some days
the teacher put his whole hands

over his eyes, or his fingers in his ears.
When I couldn’t give him
the answers he wanted to hear.

Bio: As the author of the poetry collection From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press), Virginia Bell has new work forthcoming in Hypertext Review and Denver Quarterly. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in riverSedge, Kettle Blue Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Gargoyle, Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, The Keats Letters Project, Blue Fifth Review, Wicked Alice, Cider Press Review, and Voltage Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. Bell’s poem “I Walk Into Every Room and Look for My Mother” won Honorable Mention in the 2019 riverSedge Poetry prize, judged by José Antonio Rodriguez, her lyric essay “Fish,” won a 2021 Meet Me @ 19th Street’s Chapter One Competition, sponsored by Arch Street Press, and the lyric essay “Chicken” won the 2020 Nonfiction Prize from NELLE. She holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Maryland, is Co-Editor of RHINO Poetry, and teaches at Loyola University Chicago.