In the poem Church Invisible by Jackie Kay, the speaker is a victim of domestic violence facing physical and emotional abuse from her husband. Since he is the religious leader of the community they live in, no one suspects him of abusive behaviour, which condemns her to silence and isolation. She is unable to break free from his control and suffers from his hurtful words and actions. Even when she tries her best to be a good wife, her husband’s anger intensifies. The speaker is overwhelmed by her husband’s anger and feels trapped, eventually being forced to leave her home and community due to the abuse.
And because he once said,
My belly was set about with lilies,
He set about to beat me.
And because he once said
My navel was a round goblet,
(Full poem unable to be reproduced due to copyright restrictions)
- Set about – start doing something or begin a task or activity, usually with enthusiasm or determination.
- Navel – The small, central hollow part of the stomach, where the umbilical cord was attached to a baby before birth.
- Goblet – a type of drinking glass or cup that has a stem and a bowl-shaped cup, typically used for serving wine, water, or other beverages.
- Collar – a band of material, usually worn around the neck, which is a symbol of authority or control. In this context, it could refer to the collar around the priest’s neck.
- Battered – beaten or repeatedly struck with physical force, resulting in injuries or damage.
- Loathe – to feel intense dislike or disgust for someone or something.
- Parish – a local church community or district under the care of a priest.
- Looketh – an archaic form of the third-person singular present tense of the verb “to look”.
STORY + SUMMARY
He once said that my stomach was adorned with lilies, as if to imply that I was beautiful. But instead of treating me kindly, he turned to violence. He then looked at my navel, describing it as if it were a round goblet. This time, though, his words made me feel sick, and I realised that his compliments were insincere. Despite this, no one suspected him of being abusive because he was a person with authority in our community – he wore a priest’s collar.
Even though I worked hard, I felt unworthy in his eyes, and he grew to despise me. My hands were rough from work, and this caused him to detest me further. Despite being his wife, I was submissive to him, and when I failed in any way, he punished me even more severely.
His anger was so intense that I could sense it everywhere I went, like an aura that surrounded me. I felt the colour of his rage on my skin, like a physical manifestation of his fury. The beatings became so severe that I was forced to leave my home, and as a battered woman, I was exiled from my parish.
However, despite his abusive behaviour, he still saw himself as superior, acting not as a servant of God, but as the God of his parish. Even though I was stripped of everything, I still saw myself as his servant, unable to escape his power. I try to remind myself that I am stronger than what he did to me. I am fair as the moon and radiant as the sun, with a strength that is terrible like an army with banners. However, the fear and trauma still linger, and I cannot help but see his raised hand, even when he is not there.
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