Poetry Sunday: ‘Bright Stain,’ by Francesca Bell

[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published April 28, 2019]



Each month comes the reminder
of the gash God made in me.
I like to think He made it
with one finger, the way an artist
will reach right into a painting
and finish it off. Not bothering
with brush or sponge,
just making with a finger
that last mark needed
to disturb the image enough
that the eye believes it.



Am I not your receptacle,
vacancy on two legs,
opening in the front
you pour yourself into?
You leave me with child
who will leave me
with nothing
but biology’s bit
stuffed into my mouth,
body split like a lip
and gaping.


Both poems are from Bright Stain (Red Hen Press 2019) and are reprinted here with permission of the press. “Revision” was first published in B O D Y and “Definitions” in Connotation Press.

Bright Stain is available for order here.

Listen to the poet reading these poems here. You can watch and listen to an interview of Bell and hear her reading other poems here.

You can read reviews of Bright Stain here, here, and here.

Bell answers interview questions about her work here.

Francesca Bell’s poems appear in many journals, including ELLE, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Rattle. Her translations from Arabic and German appear in Arc, B O D Y, Circumference, Mid-American Review, and The Massachusetts Review. She is the co-translator of Palestinian poet Shatha Abu Hnaish’s collection, A Love That Hovers Like a Bedeviling Mosquito (Dar Fadaat 2017), and the author of Bright Stain (Red Hen Press 2019). She is the former poetry editor of River Styx and lives with her family in California.


Poet’s Note

My poems “Revision” and “Definitions” were both written out of a need to grapple with my experience of being trapped and defined by my female body—by the physical, biological, often excruciating facts of it—in a way that men are spared. For thirty-six years, I suffered from endometriosis pain, both during and in between my periods. For a week before every period, for those thirty-six years, I struggled with devastating depression as my estrogen fell. I bore and delivered and nursed three children, at heavy physical cost and risk. Then came ten years of bizarre, perimenopausal symptoms, followed by a year of crippling incineration as my fertility burned completely out. My experience is not unusual. This is what it very often is to be a woman. Men’s bodies are sealed, tidy. Nature requires no great sacrifice of them in order to ensure the continuation of the species. Much is demanded of women. We were made open to the world. Like wounds.

I began writing my poems about the Catholic priest child sexual abuse scandal in 2011, after I read yet another news story about priests being sheltered by their church and allowed to continue in their duties years after having been credibly accused of abusing children and years after the scandal first broke. I had already been reading about the lives of women in El Salvador, where the Church effectively sets the laws and abortion is illegal in all circumstances, including rape and incest. Women in El Salvador were serving thirty-year prison sentences for terminating their pregnancies, while abusing priests received promotions and were moved to fresh hunting grounds if the accusers in their parishes became too vocal. The hypocrisy and the breathtaking lack of concern for the lives of women and children curdled something inside me. There is an old German saying, I hear what you say, but I see what you do. If one looks at what the Catholic Church has done, it is impossible to conclude that the church hierarchy objects to the ways its priests have victimized children.

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  • Chris Tirpak April 10, 2022 at 2:05 pm

    Prefer to think of my lady parts as a gateway to life….