It’s oxymoronic, isn’t it, to speak up as a voice for silence? Maybe that comes from the perspective of this poet with a voice disability. What I say out loud is a cross between edgy and strangled. I’ve wondered if it isn’t a clue that I should listen more.
The contents of the shipping trunk in the closet of my guest bedroom also make me hold up the Silent Sentinels this Women’s History Month. The Silent Sentinels stood outside of Woodrow Wilson’s White House with signs and banners to tell the President he must, at last, consider supporting women’s suffrage. In 1917, under the leadership of Alice Paul, members of the National Women’s Party stood side by side. Ultimately 168 women were arrested.
Law enforcement officers took the women to the Occoquan (Virginia) House of Correction. My mother was born inside the walls of this prison in 1912 – and named Virginia. My grandfather was a warden there. My mother and her sister spent the first five years of their lives within the prison walls. Eventually my grandmother exerted enough pressure that my grandfather took another warden position at a prison in Connecticut where his daughters did not have to live inside a prison.
And my shipping trunk? I have a small handful of lace-decorated handkerchiefs that women within the Occoquan House of Correction made as gifts for my grandmother. They still sort of smell like the cologne they came with. They are yellow with age.
Years later, I spent many Friday lunch hours with a group twenty or so women of Women in Black who stood silently protesting the invasion of Iraq. We all wore black and formed a circle in the center of a park in downtown Portland, Oregon. People walked by. If they questioned us, one person gave them a small sheet of paper saying that we were standing together in silence to oppose the invasion. I can’t claim that we changed many minds; we were simply present in our feelings.
I get the irony of a poet holding up the power of silence. I know how important women’s voices are and celebrate the power of them. In all the bluster of the political arena today, for just this moment, I want to celebrate the historic role of silent protest as well.
And, right at this moment, I am working on a poem about silence. And I have every intention of voting.
Tricia Knoll’s Ocean Laughter, a book of lyric and eco-poetry about Manzanita, Oregon is now available from Aldrich Press. Urban Wild, her poetry chapbook, is now available from Finishing Line Press. Read more about Tricia and her work at triciaknoll.com.
Artwork: Incomplete Silence by Angel Starr