Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘Prayer,’ by Francesca Bell

When the speaker gets to the other effects of aging (on her breasts and face), a different and more radical tactic is employed. Instead of expressing those effects in words that reveal their beauty, she depicts their cause—the process of aging—as a sexual act: the speaker hopes to “watch time / have its way with me” and actually wants “to see / my breasts deflate / like sacks / my lover’s hands have emptied.” There is nothing beautiful in the image of breasts as emptied sacks. But how they were emptied—by a lover’s hands—is so erotically charged that it challenges us to go back and see mature breasts in a different way. In the same way the image of facial wrinkles is not given in words that make it lovely; time “ruins” and “crumpl[es] faces.” But when we learn what process causes the wrinkles—laughter—we are won over. The notion not just of age as a lover but also of its actions as a process akin to lovemaking and laughter may be what surprises me most about this poem.

We are used to thinking about a kind of tension between the causes and effects of aging; the effects are generally not something to be celebrated, but the causes—living a fully expressive life—are. In a radical challenge to the conventional time-is-a-woman’s-worst-enemy wisdom, this poem conflates cause and effect, making the argument that the effects of aging are no less beautiful or desirable than the causes. The lines etched by laughter on one’s face are not just beautiful because of how they were caused (in experiencing and expressing joy) but are also beautiful in and of themselves. The notion of finding beauty in things that are old, worn, and even broken is embodied in the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, usually illustrated by reference to the practice of using gold paint to heighten the cracks in a piece of mended pottery. A function of Japanese aesthetics and a Japanese world view that accepts transience and imperfection, wabi-sabi derives from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existenceimpermanence,  suffering, and the emptiness of self.  We see it in Western Literature in the notion of beautiful ruins and, when we are lucky, in poems like this one.


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Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at For more information visit


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  • Judy Anderson May 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Exquisite, a gift as I celebrate my 69th year, “as even laughter / ruins me . . .”

  • Nancy Weber May 19, 2016 at 9:01 am

    “Prayer” is an act of love. The earth moved for me. Something tells me it was good for you, too. XO

  • Michelle Wing May 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Gorgeous poem, Becky. So glad to have read it. As always, love what you share here.

  • Molly Fisk May 15, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Becky, that’s a lovely one I hadn’t seen before, and I am just so glad every week to read your analyses of these poems! It’s wonderful to have such a careful eye turned on them — I learn something new every time. Many thanks!

  • Richelle May 15, 2016 at 8:00 am

    BRILLIANT! Thank you Francesca for sharing your perspective of aging, which is BEAUTIFUL with us!

    xoxo, R!