Your tongue shall split,
And all the little dicky birds
Will have a little bit.
A corruption of the nursery rhyme from Little Mother Goose, 1912
When I was a kid, you had two choices: you were a Tell Tale Tit or you were silent. Tell Tale Tits, however blameless or justified in their telling, were ostracized...from the skipping circle, from the Tag game, from the cluster of cross-legged girls on the green threading daisy chains and growing up too fast. We learned how to stay silent before we learned how to blot lipstick or put on our tights without snagging them. We learned that silence keeps us in the game.
As a novelist and poet, I am both Tell Tale and Mute. I tell tales and call them fiction. And they are fiction. They begin firm footed inside memory, but in the telling, they get harder, sharper, darker. As a poet, even in the lyric and the narrative, I can move away from the poem. “It’s just a poem,” I say. I tattle; I stay silent.
I moved into creative nonfiction recently and took a course with Marilyn Bousquin (she is a diamond). I learned the process is much the same: you sit, you think yourself out of the now and into the then; you make yourself write it down; you sit in workshop, you take notes, you keep what works and cut the rest.
One short piece was a gift—it arrived with all its fingers and toes and in need of just one good slap. So I slapped it, researched venues, sent it out, and the submissions gods smiled and found it a home.
And once it was up and live, the tune began to play: “Tell tale tit, your tongue shall split…” Anne Lamott said if people wanted us to say lovely things about them, they should have been nice to us. The advice would work if I was telling on ogres and monsters. But I’m not. I’m handing over my memory of one day. But the day is not solely mine. The other players have their memories…but they’re keeping silent. I’m the Tell Tale Tit.
It’s proving hard for me to drown out the sound of those girls singing. But I can't seem to keep my own mouth shut now I've started the telling.