Public Speech

It is not very often me.
When it is, I start
by holding on to hatred.

I believe it is freedom.
I believe it is the smallest stone
of the self. Inside the walls

of the dream, I can’t stand,
I can’t lie down.
So I survive by hunching.

And it’s not that hard.
The blows—I survive them too.
Bones split on the grain, or,

brittle from hunger, snap
like twigs under boot soles.
It’s not that hard to turn my back—

I’ve done it before—
to walk right out of my body,
to look back and see it surviving.

Maybe they’ve won. Maybe
it’s all they wanted, for me
to see me as they do.

Or is it what I wanted—
to walk away, then turn back
and force myself to answer.


Copyright © 2024 by Susan Tichy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 24, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“Having written extensively about war and its human consequences, I have always been alert to the temptations of appropriation, voyeurism, and a too easy assumption of ethical authority. ‘Public Speech’ arose from a series of dreams that included scenes of torture, pursuit, confinement, and escape. As the poem says, I was rarely the victim, but would instead witness the moment when someone else was chosen. The poem is not a cry against injustice, but a self-interrogation about my willingness and my right to issue such a cry from the distance and safety from which I speak.”
—Susan Tichy