refusing silence

the necessity of voicing our stories

credit – rachel e morris

Don’t just think before you speak; think before you are silent. – Michaela, Hear Me, See Me

If the silence is my choice, I can turn that into a source of strength. – Heather, Hear Me, See Me

But silence is more than it seems. Silence invites. In silence, there is ambient sound galore. . .
the silence in which one might hear one’s own best response.–
Lia Purpura

It’s October once again. In the cycle of Vermont seasons, we anticipate apples, brilliant foliage, crisp air rapidly replacing the balmier remnants of summer; garden beds covered over, lawn chairs brought inside, shorter hours of sunlight; a general turning toward greater silence, muted color, interiority. October also signals Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each year, out in the community, we offer a workshop called “Refusing Silence: The Necessity of Voicing our Stories.” 

This year, we brought that theme inside, opening with two quotes from the inmates’ own writings from their book HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write and Marge Piercy’s fiery poem, ‘Unlearning to Not Speak.’ The writing that emerged from a fevered 30 minutes – pens scrabbling across paper, heads bent low over forming lines, pages filling – spanned titles such as ‘My Eyes,’ ‘My Voice,’ ‘My Words,’ ‘Now It’s Too Late,’ and ‘People Think Silence is my Choice.’

Each a powerful testament to our shared experience of silence – as retreat, meditation and opportunity, yes; but more poignantly and universally, as regret, pain, sense of being rendered invisible, and the resulting urge to rise up, overcome, speak all that has been repressed, stuffed, trampled. The writings were too many to share them all; and too intense to choose among. Instead we wove powerful lines from each reader into a single ‘found poem’ capturing the intensity of the entire group experience.

‘NOW IT’S TOO LATE’ – WORDS I HATE – found poem

I am out of time, took too long
for words to take the shape of sound.
I could rehearse being present
learn to forgive, let go, trust
to be every impossible where.

People think silence is my choice;
in reality it is isolation.
The source of life is far away,
pushed down, trampled upon.
I don’t know if you understand; I don’t myself.

I should use my strength
my amazing disguise in my crystal blue eyes
spinning, grinning, hoping and wishing
for something to throw to make my exclamation point.

There are fire balloons in my chest,
rage at loss of connection.
Silence helped me see
a devil in your eyes

secret unforgettable thoughts
carving the pain against my skin,
the breath of each word making me smaller
than the muffling of outrage,
my breath seeming to go on forever.

You made me stronger with your silence.
My voice took shape when I put pen to paper.
The more I write the more I am heard;
to silence me, you will have to sever my limbs


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