Let me tell you something about honesty: it is a fickle flame, as liable to burn you as anyone else. Despite that, I, like Jared Singer, pride myself on my honesty, but the truth is that even this ideal is tempered with deception. Take my bisexuality for example. I am honest about it when asked, but I do not broadcast it, and when family members ask, ‘are you gay?’, I’ll answer honestly and say no, but I won’t offer any more information than that. I obfuscate. I hate lies, and I do my absolute best to avoid uttering them, but that in no way means I am truthful.
We play these games with ourselves, our friends and family, the world. How far can I hedge? How much of this light can I show them, and when I show them, can I do so in a way that arranges the shadows to support the interpretation I desire? I remember when I first decided I would tell no lies. I remember it clearly because I used to be beaten a great deal when I was a child, and I was beaten because I lied. I was a clumsy creature, all elbows as they say, but more than that, almost wilfully stupid and forgetful even then; I was a sieve through which thoughts and actions fell and I retained very little. But in my aftermath, I left a trail of broken things and inevitably, I would be asked ‘did you break this? I won’t hit you, just tell me the truth.’
And I never believed them, be it my aunty, or my mother, or whoever it was at the time. I lied, they beat me, and the cycle continued. For years. Eventually, a little light went on in my head and I looked my mother in the eye and told her the truth. I think I still got a smack, a light cuff, but it was nothing compared to the beatings I used to get, or being locked in my room for days. I remember thinking then, that’s it? All I had to do was tell the damn truth? Why didn’t I do that? Why does anyone lie – all that damn effort and it just blows up in your face anyway! Of course, it’s easy to think that when the cloud of fear lifts, and it’s always fear that stops our tongues, that twists our words.
I swore I would always be honest from then on – I would share the flame with the world! – but I haven’t been. I kept having to judge how much I would wound someone if I was honest, whether they could handle it, whether a little white lie really mattered all that much, whether I could live without my family when they inevitably disowned me on discovering the truth, and so on and so forth, until the flame I wanted to share with the world shrank to include just my friends and even then, again until it retained just enough heat and light to reveal my face. Sometimes. If the wind was just right.
That was then, and this is now; I have a steady light and I am happy to say it includes more than just myself, but getting to this point has been nothing short of devastating. I’ve lost so many and so much along the way. I’m mentioning all this because honesty is the subject of this week’s poem, ‘Silence’, by Jared Singer. Spoken word poetry was my gateway into poetry itself and I will always have a soft spot for it. I moved away from it as a writer for two reasons: the first being that I simply binged too hard on it when I first fell for it three years ago, and I came to hear the same rhythm and same tone of voice in every performance. I tired, too, of the self-righteousness, the self-aggrandising nature that too often came to the fore.
I hear some of that rhythm and some of that tone in this poem, but the reason I’m sharing Singer’s performance here is because it has in spades what first attracted me to this art in the first place: a willingness to open your chest for all to see, to reveal your pain in all its earnest ugliness and everything else be damned. Poetry written for the page too often shies away from emotion, I feel, but it’s on display here and I found it deeply affecting. More than that though, it’s an intelligent and artful investigation into honesty, into what it means, the lies we tell to ourselves and to others, and the brilliant part about it all is the silence. He won’t speak a line which isn’t completely truthful and the gaps in the poem beg to be filled.
All great poems leave enough space in between their lines for the reader to stuff themselves into, to hang their experiences onto, to merge literature and life, and that’s what I found here. So much space, so much silence, and I only needed the one hitched breath to go spiralling back into the past, to write this post about being honest. Which reminds me, shit, I almost forgot to include the second reason I moved away from spoken word poetry — didn’t forget, actually, just didn’t want to say it and almost got away with it — it’s because I lost the courage to perform, if I ever even had it to begin with. The stage terrified me, and it still does. But that’s a battle for another day, a war I haven’t totally given up on.
Until then, I’ll still be thinking about silence.