Published on Academy of American Poets (

Given to Rust

Every time I open my mouth my teeth reveal
more than I mean to. I can’t stop tonguing them, my teeth.
Almost giddy to know they’re still there (my mother lost hers)
but I am embarrassed nonetheless that even they aren’t
pretty. Still, I did once like my voice, the way it moved
through the gap in my teeth like birdsong in the morning,
like the slow swirl of a creek at dusk. Just yesterday
a woman closed her eyes as I read aloud, and
said she wanted to sleep in the sound of it, my voice.
I can still sing some. Early cancer didn’t stop the compulsion
to sing but
there’s gravel now. An undercurrent
that also reveals me. Time and disaster. A heavy landslide
down the mountain. When you stopped speaking to me
what you really wanted was for me to stop speaking to you. To
stifle the sound of my voice. I know.
Didn’t want the quicksilver of it in your ear.
What does it mean
to silence another? It means I ruminate on the hit
of rain against the tin roof of childhood, how I could listen
all day until the water rusted its way in. And there I was
putting a pan over here and a pot over there to catch it.


Copyright © 2017 by Vievee Francis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“There are few things worse than being silenced, than having one's voice stifled. In my twenties I lost my singing voice to cancer. Now, the spoken word, conversation, vocalization itself is vital and deeply personal to me, and as much a part of my understanding of self and being as inscription. There are those who cannot stand to hear the truth and are willing to allow harm to not have to listen. I have known such people, and even held them close. But in this poem I hope to convey the consequences of silencing can be dire. And I mean to be heard one way or another, no matter the cost.”
—Vievee Francis


Vievee Francis

Vievee Francis is the author of Forest Primeval (Northwestern University Press, 2015).

Date Published: 2017-11-17

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