Anna Lena Phillips Bell


Dregs of red wine are left in my grandmother Swannie’s
crystal glasses that surely were made for some finer
vintage, tiny flowers encircling their lips,
stained and serene next to coffee cups, stacked plates.
Now I run warm water into one glass and
poke at the stubborn wine in its curving bowl.
Pushing the loosening edges of crimson feels like
putting my finger in somebody’s belly button,

an innie, looking for lint, a lode of it, barely
visible, dark in the dark, satisfaction of scraping
something from something. But belly button’s too close to
sin, she’d have said, too private, almost cussing,
all those covered-up parts had better stay covered
outside the narrow occasions on which being naked’s
sanctioned. If the glass has a navel, though, it
can’t be somebody else’s: squirming, they’d say she was

right, my grandmother, that’s what makes someone’s privates
private. Even a dishwasher’s clinical touch,
up to the elbows in soapsuds, would set them off, and
since it’s been proved you cannot tickle your ownself,
this must be mine: I must have been wearing red,
lots of it, velvety, wine-dark red that rolls itself
into the body’s crevices, makes itself comfy—
or else I am reopening, not aberrance

but reminder: this is the bowl you collect in,
portal to inside, archaic, these are the vital
dregs that turn you into yourself. You know
all of the curses. Speaking their names, collect up your
sins, incremental as lint, and as small, and consider:
are they yours, or have you just been borrowing them?
Either way, you’re self-cleaning: time and your two hands,
elbow grease, god bless, and a little warm water.


Anna Lena Phillips Bell's Three Poems can be read in the print edition of The Arkansas International 1.


Photo by David Lelyveld

Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s first book of poetry, Ornament, received the Vassar Miller Prize and is forthcoming in spring 2017. Her projects include A Pocket Book of Forms, a travel-sized, fine-press guide to poetic forms, and her poems have recently appeared in the Southern Review, 32 Poems, and Colorado Review. The recipient of a 2016 North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship in literature, she is editor of Ecotone and Lookout Books, and teaches at UNC Wilmington.