[TW: This piece contains graphic mentions of violence and blood.]
We have inherited the mouths of our foremothers.
Sweet cupid’s bow; pursed lips.
Inside, our cheeks ragged from biting down on them
every time we are too afraid to speak.
Philomela, raped by Tereus.
Brave princess threatened to tell,
so he cut out her tongue.
It’s a good thing she knew how to weave
to thread her story somehow
and pass it along to her sister.
In the end they both nearly died,
preserved only as songbirds.
O, Philomela, you sing so sweetly now
but at the cost of your very humanity.
Cassandra, raped by Zeus.
It was he who bestowed upon her
the gift of prophecy in the first place.
But we women know too all well that little
comes for free in this business.
After brutalizing her body,
he added insult to injury:
speak your prophecies but be cursed never to be believed.
O, Cassandra, so many of your daughters
raise their voices aloud
but are driven to madness by knowing full well
they only ever echo back.
Lavinia, raped by Demetrius and Chiron.
They must have known she knew how to write
for after they forced themselves into her
they tore both her tongue from her mouth
and her hands from her arms.
“Let’s leave her to her silent walks,” they said.
O, Lavinia, blessed wretch
be their mutilation of flesh or of metaphor
how many of your sisters walk silently?
For if a rape occurs in the forest
—a bedroom, a house, a car, a classroom—
does anybody hear it?
Does it happen at all?
Our tongues are bloodied now;
we taste iron.
Tears fall, the salt-water mixes with our blood,
and we swallow.
We swallow it down,
great gulps of this silence.
Bitter as it is, many of us would prefer to drink it
knowing the poison others await to eagerly drop into our mouths
if we should ever dare