The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Bright Stain by Francesa Bell

On the Way to Chevron, My Father Tries to Save My Life

He turns to me while I’m driving,
says, There’s something I should tell you.
Says, Truth is, I’ve worried it could happen to you.
Says, Women have been burned clear to death.
Says, I know it’s weird, but I wanted you to know.
Then he pauses, embarrassed.
In his pause is room enough for me
to think, holy shit and self-immolation.
To wonder if he senses, after all,
how I verge on combustion.
The smolder I fight to keep
from flaring up and engulfing me daily,
in the laundry room and kitchen,
narrow confinement of the bathroom.
My washer and dryer spinning years of
not done, not done, not done.
Dinners no one likes bubble over
on the stove, and the toilet is bolted
so close to the wall, the only way
to get it clean is on my knees.
Some days, I rest there like a sick person—
head lolling, hair in my face—
and listen while my children trash the house,
glad the mirror cannot find me:
a controlled burn of a woman
where a raging goddamned wildfire might have been.
I stop the car, and he starts again, my father.
Says, You’ve got to stay outside while you pump your gas.

Says, You sit back down, you’re building up static.
Says, Spark’ll jump right down the gas tank and light you up.
Says, Touch something before the nozzle. Discharge your spark.
Promise me, he says, you’ll do it every time.
Later, walking room to room to watch my family sleep,
I stand at each bedside in the dark,
not knowing where it’s safe to put my hands.

In honor of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, this selection comes from the poetry collection, Bright Stain, available from Red Hen Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Francesca Bell’s poems appear in many magazines, including ELLE, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, 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 lives with her family in Northern California.
As a writer, Nilsa explores gender and diversity issues (including child neglect, domestic violence, homelessness, and sexual abuse). Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, The Selkie, and several other literary journals. It’s also been featured at Miami Book Fair’s LipService True Stories out Loud Miami, the Writing Class Radio podcast, and at the “Muses and Music” a multidisciplinary event of the Cream Literary Alliance. Nilsa is also the Editor of The Wardrobe and Doubleback Review. Nilsa can be found reading or at the beach.

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