“While Trying to Write a Novel” by Heather Bell

Heather Bell


I take a bath. I fill the bathtub with a face and
a voice. I fill the bathtub with a man on a bicycle.
The man on a bicycle is you and I allow November
to kill him. Or, a dog runs after the man, biting at
his brown shoes until I fall out of the bathtub.

While trying to write a novel, I ache as I smoke
a cigar. I smoke cigars to forget you. I load the
dishwasher. I load the dishwasher with a global
village, let you walk through the village right before

it is bombed. I sit on the countertop and say
nothing. Your body and skin looks like what is
always taken away. It is only a body. It is only
a body. My therapist tells me to meditate on
sentences, which will help release them from me

like raw birds. It is only a body. It is only a body.
There is a body of water past the meatpacking plant
on 23rd Street. There, you are sitting and crying
by a curb. Your father walks by and he is always

hungry. I pack my suitcases like brittle bones.
Underwear, wool coat, hat with the foliage in it
that vibrates like the wind. I admire the goose in

the refrigerator. There are quite a few things
we can choke on in this world, be careful is the
note I leave on the kitchen table. Leaving this note
makes me feel like a genius. I admire the
glasswork vases, bought in a little shop in Nogales.

God made everything and then God turned
away. It is only a body. I get my hair stuck in
a paper shredder, bending down. I light
my hair on fire from a candle, bending down.
It is only a body. Three pairs of socks, a Chrysler,
the dust turning human. All this baby fat, this

round slice of fontanel. All the ways you
know not to kill a person. You are walking
straight into our bedroom and you do not pause

when you see me. Your dog is wearing a muzzle.
Or, is that your face? You are translated from rough
Spanish—your hair is either a blurred star or it is
waiting for me around the corner. It may be the
old cannon we dug up in the garden last Thursday,

pointed toward our house. You are wearing my t-shirt,
it is too tight and sad. You are wearing
a little girl’s fox over your shoulders. I wonder when
it is going to open its animal-mouth and say oh

ragged things be still. The most beautiful moment
of your life has already happened. It is when
I caught you writing a novel. It is when you said
I should fill the bathtub and then I was, netbag

of salt in my hands. You are pacing at the window.
You say I am filling the bathtub with human heads
and cut-out tongues. I am filling the bathtub with
hearts, race and throb. Race and throb. Race and
throb. It is only a body, you say, get in.

from Rattle #51, Spring 2016
Tribute to Feminist Poets


Heather Bell: “Once upon a time there was a six-foot-tall woman with blue hair and a sense of smallness. In her house was a teacup saying ‘girl, you got this!’ and on her wall was a kitten hanging from a clothesline. The kitten’s word balloon said something like, ‘Hang in there!’ or ‘Don’t let go!’ Always something with an exclamation mark. Isn’t that the moral of the story, always? There is always a small woman, hiding her grandness, trying to fill up on uplifting wordplay. But today, this small woman sits down and writes a poem in which she details her smallness and why she came to be that way. Another small woman reads it, and from the tip of her hair a fire starts, but just as quickly dies. Isn’t that why we are here? To write another poem for a small woman to read, and then another. Until the amount of sparks are too much for the quick extinguishing, and she is a woman on fire, exploding into the world.”

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