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Rebecca Irene

On Keeping Silent

The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue

among our members, that it defileth the whole body,

 —James 3:6 KJV


Moongleam smoldered over the dash

on my mouth low-slung with age. Wit

spent, I still sometimes prayed to mute


glow, disc of impossible grasp.

Time had dulled speech’s sprawl—

tamed me into small talk, slowed fervor


by the twine of routines. Church leaders

warned: a woman is a sack of potatoes,

sack o’shit, sack of sorrys if she speaks out


of turn, so to temper speech I imagined

strung moon stones stuffed into every

sentence. Squirm:::Stifle:::Swallow:::Say.


I tried simple to start. Seashore::for

Saturday::& Sabbath:: for Sunday. & every

month, the moon waned gracefully, never


made a noise. Coy hiding behind another

righteous cloud. Always returning with

her sideways smirk of a martyred saint.


I have tried most of my life to be more

grateful. If I had been born centuries ago,

an iron muzzle may have been needed


to teach, or a scold’s bridle: a bit to fit

into my mouth, & compress sound. Hush.

Quiet. The moon is merciful because


it can only reflect another’s light, because

it knows there are so many ways to train

a mind to mind its own disobedient tongue::

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Rebecca Irene's poems are published or forthcoming in Spillway, Parentheses Journal, RHINO, Carve, Juked, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She was named the 2020 Monson Arts: MWPA Poetry Fellow. Poetry Editor for The Maine Review, Rebecca holds an MFA from VCFA, and lives in Portland, Maine. Find her online at or tweeting @cicadacomplex.

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