“My body represents life”

Chelsea Risley, a writer and poet in the Chattanooga area wrote this poem in response to a book called Shell Shaker by LeAnne Howe.
She said, “It resonated with me because it treated women with… a little bit of something that was almost awe or fear, because of how powerful women are if they are able to embrace themselves.
I have always struggled with feeling the indignity of being a woman rather than the power, or the beauty, or the privilege, especially when it comes to periods. My perspective has changed in ways that I didn’t expect, in part due to this book… and how Choctaw women view themselves and their femininity.”
This poem is especially important now, when women’s bodies are under attack by politics and powerful men. Women are shamed all the time for things they have no control over. But our female bodies are filled with life and light. We are capable of so much. Women, be filled with love and rage. Let your body be. What you are is so good. Let us not be afraid of our strength and our anger for we are so holy and alive.
Here is Risley’s powerful poem. May it liberate you from any thing less than a feeling of glory and life.

Woman: Defective, Misbegotten


All these old white men have fucked

women up for centuries. They called

us defective, misbegotten, not fully developed.

Doctors and philosophers had all the answers.

Too much spirit? Despise being

locked inside? Diseased.

Cut off their noses, it’ll help.

Or better yet, their vaginas.


Speaking of vaginas, do you know

what comes out of them?

Blood runs sweetly, fiercely down our legs

in that liminal space between

girl and woman

pure and not

full and empty motherhood.

Those old men, they said

we’re monstrous,

disgusting, unacceptable.


I’ve lived in shame for nine years now,

or longer, if you count the years

when I listened to boys taunt the girls

when tampons fell out of their bags.

I feel disgusting – I want to claw

out of my skin, to stop seeing red.

I feel the way they say I am.


Why am I embarrassed

of the way my body represents life?

Why shouldn’t I be proud?

Choctaws say that white women

have never known what to do with their blood.

I confess, I don’t know what to do.


These Choctaw women, they tell me

this dripping is sacred, symbolic of creativity,

spirituality, wildness. The old is sloughed off

so the new, the beautiful, can begin.

Do not waste your time, they say,

on fear or on hiding.

You are most powerful

during this pull of the moon –

you are fiercely, proudly, feminine.

– Chelsea Risley

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