BRIGHT STAIN by Francesca  Bell


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From Bell, a gritty poetry debut that examines the power and perils of womanhood, sex, and religion.

Bell finds beauty and horror in the tiny moments of life and turns them into art. “Besos” sensually recalls a first kiss with a boy who is later brutally beaten. The speaker unpacks the mortifying experience of developing breasts at age 14 but soon discovers how they make young men quake in “In Plain Sight.” In “Narrow Openings,” the speaker admits she doesn’t like her lover and longs to argue with him; instead, she goes for a walk, delighting in the idea of him “pacing / the closed rooms, stupid and lovely.” The author doesn’t shy away from tough or taboo subjects; “With a Little Education” examines the life of a gigolo, and “The Curator” is a visceral recounting of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s monstrosities. The work is entirely unsentimental, from a remembrance of an unimpressive paramour to a poem in which the poet plays with excuses used by football players accused of sexual assault. Several unflinching looks at the body include a birth poem so gruesome it reads precariously close to murder, and “Guilt Tastes Like Summer” finds a 4-year-old wondering if sunburn is her penance for sexual desire. Womanhood and religion are interwoven here. Unclasping a bra is “a relief like prayer,” while menstruation is “the reminder / of the gash God made in me.” The imagery is incisive and unique: Boys’ voices “creaked like screen doors”; spent lovers are “rubble, still and separate”; and a tongue “leapt / like an animal from its cave.” This collection is not for the faint of heart, however; rape, abortion, and child sexual abuse by men of the cloth are all par for the course. And in “In Persona Christi,” she compares fellatio to the Eucharist.

A penetrating collection of ruthless, unapologetic poetry.

Pub Date: May 7th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-59709-861-8
Page count: 104pp
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2019


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