Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unspoken Word


As a child I spoke when spoken to,
learned my place as children often do

and stayed there,  
a still and silent thing, the picture
of assigned perfection, a portrait
of good-little-girl obedience, painted
by the refined strokes of the bible belt
across my back.

By adolescence, my mouth was a tight fist
where words were folded,
like my fingers to my palms,
an arsenal of unloaded weapons.

I sucked
the intentional hand, seeking to shut up my mouth
or extract words, like teeth.

I chewed my nails ragged,
swallowed the dead remains
and fed on silence to stave the threat of violence
and its dark premonitions.

Fear found fodder and took root
in the damp and toxic dump
of broken meanings, cast off words,
and useless verbs,

a heap
of what wasn’t said,

my funeral bed
of hot and smothered shame,

and every time I failed to claim
the air and muscle to speak my name,

I died another suicide.   

Death was a bad habit.


Your silence will not protect you, the poet said.*

Instead, two possibilities exist:
the risk of speaking one’s mind

or the small and petty deaths that over time
wreak tragedy.

In other words,
there is no middle road.
There’s no half-way to say: “No!”

No, I will not shut up.

No, you will not beat up the verbs
that emerge from my throat.

No, I refuse to choke
on unspoken words.


As I cut my wisdom teeth,
I gnawed the bone of my own fear and grief
and dared to speak, as if words would save me,

which is why I’m speaking to you now,
as if somehow you will hear me,
mouthing what you cannot speak, to say:

Your silence betrayed me.

You believed your indecision was benign.
You walked ahead, left me behind,
remained silent, as if blinded by the violent onslaught
of human flesh, aimed and launched at me, the easy mark,
as if you were deaf to the words, slurred
to name and shame me.

I do not blame you
for what you could not do then.

But your unforgivable sin is
you refuse to speak of it now,

and somehow, you do not see me,
even as you examine my face, smooth rouge
over the bruises darkening my flesh, paint
the jagged scar, marking my lips.

I am no victim,

but to say I’ve survived
suggests I didn’t die
with the dark prints of two hands
around my neck


Perhaps, it’s my demise and rise
from the flames of another’s fury that makes
for my impatient wait,
for the audible naming and claiming

of who you are,
where you’ve been,
of what you haven’t said.

We are poets.

Words grow on our tongues,
become food, giving life for our living
or they are the rocks that weight our pockets
for our drowning beneath the river’s rage.

There is no written page to read,
no chapter or verse
to memorize or rehearse
the words, lining our lungs.

This is improvisational speaking—
the un-sensational stanza and rhyme,
the un-extraordinary poetry of our ordinary lives.

The poet wrote,

Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.**

What she meant to convey is no mystery.
Our poetry and prose is so pretty,
but we never stood a chance of escaping a stance.

The freedom of speech is not free of responsibility.
The price tag of our ability to speak measures the cost, the loss
of our careless and casual spending of the pennies that bought our thoughts.

Our silence costs as much,

bears the burden wrought
by what was lost, by who
we sacrificed for our fears.


I see that you are broken.
I hear your stunted, stuttered, and unspoken words.

But you are not so fragile.
You will not break beneath the weight
of words you can’t erase or revise.

Our silence and lies are as dead and deadly
as the knives we pull from our backs.

My intention is not to judge or to preach
but to somehow reach across the chasm
of these words unsaid to say:

When you speak it,
I will hear you.

© Ami Mattison

* Excerpt by Audre Lorde 
** Excerpt by Adrienne Rich

Flickr photo courtesy of AJ Baxter

For One Stop Poetry's One Shot Wednesday


  1. Dying in life is no life- for sure

    How short a life can be if said just like this... but you've made a great summary.
    I love your poetry
    Sorry!hey it Wasn't my intention to make a rhyme here.

    Nice to read you, Ami.

  2. A.maz.ing. Your performance was flawless, cathartic, full of conviction. Never a doubt watching your video that you don't live your poetry, which is very meaningful and inspiring. Bravo, Ami

  3. yeah fricken amazing...i grew up the closed fist mouth until i got tired of taking crap then i snapped and been jacked up ever since...i have learned to temper my words a bit...

  4. This is almost too much for me to read; content and emotions, I mean, not length--and it's beyond the realms of polite commenting. The person in my life who most needed to hear this is dead now, but I'm glad that *I* heard it. Even fifty years later, I needed to. Your quotes were quite effectively used as well.

  5. Brillant Ami....this being my favorite lines

    I am no victim,

    but to say I’ve survived
    suggests I didn’t die
    with the dark prints of two hands
    around my neck

    keep perfoming, keep writing...well done...Bravo!!bkm

  6. Thanks, y'all! I appreciate your generous compliments and encouraging words!

    Hedgewitch, I think I know exactly what you mean. It was nearly unbearable to write. I still haven't had the courage to speak these words to the person who needs to hear them. The piece remains my personal challenge to do so. Thanks for sharing.

  7. yes - we are poets and words grow on our tongues..loved this ami

  8. "painted
    by the refined strokes of the bible belt
    across my back." Very fine, indeed.

    You have an awesome rhythm. I can hear the voice in the written words. Very powerful all around.

  9. Hi Mattison

    Its great work... and I could relate to it very much... Amazing work.

    ॐ नमः शिवाय
    Om Namah Shivaya
    Twitter @VerseEveryDay

  10. Hi - Not sure you go in for such things - if not fair enough, but I wanted to at least offer.

    I gave you an award - to find out which and collect it pop by my blog today - wordsinsync.blogspot.com - Oh, and while you're there link up and link back (blog hop) to your blog so people can visit you here and discover your latest creations.
    Shah .X
    Shah. X