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On Political Silences

Published September 2017 in Bilkent News.

1. It’s a room that’s quiet and you’re also very quiet as he pours you milk against the window. The milk as a detail is disarming, very innocent; he has an expression on his face that says I want to turn your body out onto the table. But he won’t say it. And you won’t say it either.

2. You’re asked to come clean and all you can think to say is I would never really hurt you. It doesn’t sound convincing because that’s not what they asked, it’s not convincing because of your lack of body politic. Nervous, a flutter in your nose and throat, you have exposed to your audience something very indelicate that they will never unsee.

3. You did something very, very wrong, and you know it’s wrong because you did it. No one else would have wanted you to do it. Since you were born and became frightened, someone has always told you what to do; your culture still speaks to you from where it’s curled around your upper carotid. This violation came out of no ill intention and you’re not quite sure how to handle it. You have no affiliation, no ideology to excuse yourself with, so you take your small deviance and fold it away so nobody ever sees. Someone always sees, but you keep silent about it.

4. The other person keeps silent about it too because she’s afraid to be part of it, or afraid to implicate you, or afraid that she’s overstepped some boundary. Or maybe she’s being political, and would rather hold your error somewhere at hand so one day you might do what’s asked. Her culture and ambitions and moral hesitations are her politics, so she keeps quiet,

5. or else she doesn’t and you should’ve been more careful. Affected conformity doesn’t seem to have helped, and you’ve wasted all this time trying to appease; you take on your shame and become loud and virulent, pushing against others’ reticence until one of you screams. You now prefer political loudnesses.

6. The light is very fetching on his mouth and teeth and barrel chest as he smiles and smiles his everyman’s grin. You’ve sweated through your clothing, but his eyes shine like moonstones, and you weren’t really silent but he looks ready to talk. The reporter asks him to come clean but she doesn’t say it that openly, and he nods, understanding to talk about oil companies. This man has your exact same intentions but doesn’t speak about them like you have; you weren’t even asked like he was, and he won’t ever mention his policies. He’ll smile a wedge through the hours but won’t ever come clean.

7. Your elbows are still on the bench and he can still only express himself through slow, stunted touches. Neither of you would like to use the word love. You think it’d be a little like getting naked, but badly, inspected for madnesses until something is sliced open. Politically you’d both like to have the upper hand, and emotionally you know it’s not healthy, but you’ve always kept so much inside that it’s only ever easy, and

8. you don’t want to overwhelm them so it’s easy. You don’t want to make a fool of yourself so it’s easy. You wouldn’t speak to people you know and wouldn’t touch those you don’t know, and you don’t mind the political solitude because it’s

9. easy. You’ve stripped off your collar and tie and understood there’s no way to really stand up for what you’ve wanted, or to be as gentle as you’d like. I don’t want to hurt you becomes I don’t want to be hurt; better to keep quiet about what you deserve, you’ve got shame and affection and there are censors and prison, and really not much will to break free.

10. Your politics aren’t just institutional, and you could always turn your back on them, but you don’t. Your politics are what you choose to say and why you won’t say them, and the policy of insulation is the safest of all, in which you’re silent and occasionally violent and never really open to be moved. But then someone just breaks the shell, someone

11. breaks the shell, your friend or lover or government or mother comes and shatters something so that you’re implicated anyway, punished or humiliated or put away for a crime or misstep or blasphemy, and you’re not even able to say that you tried. Your silence has been mild and all too confusing to upend. It somehow would have been better

12. to take the blame instead.

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