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Francesca Bell

Every Two Hours, the Letdown Burns

By the time I uncover my breast—

t-shirt, bra, nursing pad—


the baby is at full cry,

its wide-open wailing


like a kettle at hard boil,

over-roiling, at scream.


The sound is a pulled trigger,

spraying milk everywhere.


The duvet will sour.

My shirt, stain.


In this circuit, I’m neither detonator

nor what absorbs the charge.


I’m the casing left behind,

the part blown empty.

Committee Work


The football players,

            when accused of raping

the drunk girl, said she

            had approached them,

pulled their pants down

            and sucked their penises

into her mouth.

            One claimed he was unable

to achieve an erection

            despite her efforts.

Another felt inappropriate,

            zipped up, and walked out.

One was seen behind her

            with his pants down,

but none could say

            whose fluids were found

in her vagina

            or her underwear or her ass.

The school had no interest

            in DNA. The committee

closed the case, and

            the football players went on

to an undefeated season,

            trampling team after team.

They ran joyfully,

            faster than the opposition,

faster even than all

            the drunk girls who rush

to their knees, who bend over

            pool tables and couches,

no longer content

            to just ask for it,

no, those bitches

            reach out to take it.



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.

-from Bright Stain, Red Hen Press 2019, selected by Spring Guest Editor, Luke Johnson


BIO: FRANCESCA BELL was born in Spokane, Washington into a family with deep, hardscrabble roots in the Northwest. Her maternal great-grandfather, the son of a prostitute and her client, was raised in a brothel. He raised his own six children, including Bell’s grandmother, on a 160-acre homestead in Plummer, Idaho. On her father’s side, the Norwegian Wikum family, when traced 700 years back, was already renowned for its spectacularly heavy drinking. The hard living continued in America where the clan was referred to around Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho as “the fighting Wikums.”Bell was raised in Washington and Idaho and settled as an adult in California. She did not complete middle school, high school, or college and holds no degrees. Bell’s poems appear in many magazines including ELLE, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and Tar River Poetry. Her translations, from Arabic and German, appear in Arc, B O D Y, Circumference | Poetry in Translation, 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).

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