Virginia Bell

Mario Gomez


In 1897, Agnes Nestor moved with her family from rural Michigan to Chicago and began to work in a glove factory.  She was 14 years old, 5 feet tall, and weighed 90 pounds. She went on to become, first, a local activist and labor leader, and later, a national advocate for working women. These poems are inspired by her life and drawn—in part—from historical documents.

Speak Easy, or The Archivist Reflects

From what we can tell, our little Aggie was determined not to be a dolled-up quiff, never to get in a ten-cent box with some dead hoofer and his bottle of bootleg. She never spent much time in the hencoop, never even carried a torch—her bank was always closed. 

Most sheiks would have thought her a bluenose bird, a dumb Dora, flat-tire Jane. No hotsy-totsy sheba with a keen kisser—

No matter, our little Aggie simply wanted to be her own bee’s knees, her very own bearcat, with no need for a Declaration of Independence. On the level, but no sad sap you could take for a ride!

Thomas Nestor, father

It was late
winter and
noisy, wheels
skittered on street-ice
like skates on
a stilled lake,                                    
the eyes of infant
potatoes were winking
open under white-
masked ground. 

I saw the cigar
smoke, first, heard
voices deep as
an engine-throttle,
then my stubborn
crocus, only fifteen
years old, born
once more, this
time walking right
up to the stage.  

Anna McEwan Nestor, mother      

I always wanted to stay in Michigan where we were all somebody, where we could spend the weekend on Uncle Bird’s farm and eat blackberries right off the bush, where we didn’t have to pray for so much. But Tom said we had to move. Tom said Chicago was the only place we could

all get steady work. Steady all right, for my girls. They rubbed their fingers into nubs. They came home at night with raccoon eyes. Back in Michigan, I shot at a game bird once, a flash in the trees. It was one of those cock-pheasants with a white ring around his neck, like the collar of a starched shirt. He had an expensive-looking, upturned tail. But he was

too quick for me—flew off high, out of my reach. Of course Aggie never learned to lift a gun. By now her fingers are smooth as butter. In her new line of work, it’s just talk, talk, talk. And friends who aren’t even Catholic, let alone Irish. I sometimes think, if we had stayed in Michigan, I could have become

a better shot.

What’s In a Name, or Agnes of Rome

was twelve, they say                                           
when the Prefect Sempronius
wished her to marry his son

she refused (who knows why)

troops dragged Agnes
through the streets to a brothel
because it was illegal

to execute a virgin (who knows why)

her hair grew
so fast, so thick, and so long
that it covered her body

blocked their cocks (who knows why)                          

troops tied her
to a stake, but the bundle of wood
would not burn

flames parted away (who knows why)

so an officer
stabbed her in the throat
a touch of white


on Saint Agnes Eve
you are supposed to walk backwards to bed
not looking behind you

or fill a yolkless boiled egg
with salt and eat it

in a vision
your future husband
will bring you water

Virginia Bell is the author of From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012).  Her poems and personal essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and have appeared in Hypertext ReviewFifth Wednesday Journal, Rogue Agent, GargoyleCider Press ReviewSpoon River Poetry ReviewPoet Lore, and other journals and anthologies.  She was a finalist for the 2016 Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction and she is a Senior Editor with RHINO Poetry, an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago and the Chicago High School for the Arts, and the recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency in 2015. You can learn about more about her work at

Virginia Bell’s Website 

Virginia Bell at RHINO 

Virginia Bell’s From the Belly at Sibling Rivalry Press 

Virginia Bell at YouTube 

More Art by Mario Gomez at EIL

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