Eight Variations on Silence

By Ella Grim

Art by Milanne Berg


I


Silence has a voice. It speaks of itself. Those who hear it are the silenced, and the silenced have a choice: Speak or remain silent. Challenge the patriarchy, the supremacy, the normative, the acceptable, or don’t.


But nothing about silence is binary. It haunts the gray area between speaking and not speaking, where words are present but contested by forces that lock vocalizations somewhere between the throat and the teeth. Silence is visceral, felt. It is uncomfortable. It is familiar. It is safe. It is suffocating.


I’ve been unable to shake the sensation of silence from my body and my brain.



II


I was sitting in the center of the auditorium, attentive. The presenters asked for thoughts from the audience. The lines formed in a heartbeat. Only men stood to speak.


This was the first time I felt silence imposed in a systemic way. (I cannot speak; my hands shake.) These were my feelings and not reality, but sensation has a way of warping mentality. (My heart beats. Too fast.) Only men stood to speak.


After, I asked the presenter for her perspective. She and the men on stage noticed but said nothing. They did not want to be taken the wrong way or distract the direction of the conversation. (My shaking becomes silent rage.)


Only men stood to speak.

III


I just read Sappho, or what is left of her. See, even the greatest poets are fragmented when they are female. Censors fear sensual women, and deviancy. Her words were lost— not in time, but misogyny.



IV


Once, I met a boy who silenced me—I wrote poetry in which I was mouse and he was cat. When I look back, I see that the power he had over me was in my inability to speak about what was happening.


To this day, I don’t trust easily.


V


I am incredibly aware of how heads swivel toward me when I speak in class.


I wonder if this will last, or if it is just a reaction to my status: I am younger. I am a woman. I have made it clear I don’t care if people like what I say or agree. I am not here to please. Words are my superpower; the training wheels are off. I will not be stopped by a glance.


I have my chance to be heard and each moment is only lived once so you’d better believe I will be speaking through the weight of the stares.



VI

















VII


Hear it?

VIII


I have made my choice.

I stand to speak.

I reject fragmentation.

I am working on trust.

I am speaking.


I hear it.



And refuse it.