BEB: The Burning of Women Instead of Paper
by sienna brancato
closely inspired by & quoted from “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children” by Adrienne Rich
You say, “the burning of a book arouses no sensation in me,”
And I say,
The books are all already burning.
I look at my bookshelf,
the titles staring back,
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wide Sargasso Sea
The Scarlet Letter
We Were Witches
The baffled woman.
Burned at the stake woman
Orange red sunset burning blood woman
I live through books,
I love through books,
Grew up on books
But what did I learn—
and did they teach me well?
cultural knowledge destroyed, stripped, leaving behind a people
desensitization to violence,
a constant state of flames,
Language stripped from my family,
dissolved across an ocean,
pressure to speak English,
the oppressor’s language steals the dialect from my tongue
And now when I relearn it,
it does not roll easy,
know your enemy
know your oppressor
I went to college and now I speak his language
And I have become dependent on
this signifier of authority
this qualifier of respect
But what does it mean to speak your mind in the oppressor’s tongue?
To contort your language to communicate with those
who do not wish to understand you?
But then my bookshelf is
by my traitorous mouth
as I betray myself,
cowering under his scrutinizing eyes
convinced that he will scoff at, disparage, abandon,
the girl who speaks her mind.
The oppressor stole my tongue
and now I wear his language
respect me, respect me, respect me
need to speak
my own Language now
The books have been stolen and I’m dreaming of her softness
Love and fear
I want you and I’m scared
I don’t have the language to describe how I feel
when I think about running my fingers through your long curls,
placing my palms on your burning curves,
It’s a feeling I was never taught to codify,
never taught how to speak into existence
What may happen between us
has happened for centuries
we know it from literature
still it happens
and I discover a language free of oppression
Fissure and clot
Filling in the gaps
The swelling, the swelling, the burst
The refusal to contort our tongues into anything other than what frees us
tracing you with my hands
But what privilege is there in knowing how to speak the oppressor’s language
and then refusing to use it?
Is it foolish? Or
The ability to sacrifice,
the constant in-between,
the agency to choose your own tongue
How do you reconcile that something you love has been used as a tool to oppress and exclude?
Do I burn the texts?
Or do you burn the language?
How well he spoke today. He spoke well today. All the men spoke well today. His is the oppressor’s language. I spoke today. Did I speak today? Who did I speak to today and how? I did not speak in class today. The oppressor’s language stole my tongue. Sweat the palms of my hands. Bent my head. A language is a map of our failures. I am a writer but I cannot speak. It is hard to tell the truth. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. I know it hurts to burn. It hurts to burn. My hair is burning. My eyes are burning. My lips are burning. My tongue is burning. I am the fire. My flames consume.