Guest Post: To Hearken

By Tessa

Porcelain Doll jurcut

“Now don’t talk too much,”
he preaches from that unreachable pulpit,
dark suit and tie.

After all,
why would I need to say anything?
My needs are only so-called–
not valid, not important, not even real.
I have no real concerns.
Or, at least
the perfect porcelain doll who wears my face,
smiling with silent Stepford grace
from her polished marble pedestal
She embraces her
highest and holiest calling,
does not shrink back from
nine months of body swollen, stolen, possessed,
does not seek to leave the gilded walls of home
where women are incredible yet cannot preside.
The milky thoughts spoon-fed her each week are sufficient.
She does not ache to understand
the heavens and earths
and nations and peoples
and pasts and futures,
does not yearn to stretch, to grow,
to feed that seed of divinity planted in me by Mother above;
a mother I barely know;
a mother she does not remember.

But she is not me
I have climbed down from that pedestal,
have found solid earth beneath my feet.
And though I may have skinned
and scraped my hands on the way down,
the sting rekindles my voice.
First a cry of pain,
then words,
words I do not remember forgetting from suppressing them so long,
but now the dam is burst, I cannot hold back the flood
though it brands me Heretic.
So I speak now with my foremothers–
Emma, Eliza, Mary, Martha, Deborah, Miriam, Eve, and
Standing in a circle we declare our truth,
noble, bold, and independent of the expectations of a suit.

“Shhh. Shhh.”
he whispers, returning me to my proper place,
that display case pedestal.
“You’re happy.”

And in that moment I almost believe him,
almost don’t feel the duct tape being pressed firmly, but oh so gently across
my lips.

After all,
to hearken never required a voice.


Tessa lives in Utah Valley with her husband and whiny but cuddly cat.  She reads more than is probably good for her, knits her way through church, and teaches middle school.

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19 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    “To hearken never required a voice.” Devastating and poignant. Tessa, this resonates so well with my experience and thoughts about the hearken covenant and so many other expectations placed on Mormon women.

    That phrase, “Now don’t talk too much.” Isn’t that something an apostle recently said about women speaking in ward council? Ugh. Our leaders can and should do so much better than that.

    • Tessa says:

      Thank you. I’m glad the poem resonated with you.

      Yes, it was Elder Ballard at the regional women’s meeting in Europe last September referencing women’s participation in ward councils. That phrase, plus Packer’s “the so-called needs of women” hurt when I heard them and stuck with me long after.

      • Anarene Holt Yim says:

        Bro. Ballard said much the same thing at BYU in Aug. 2013. I cried when I heard him backtrack on his earlier teaching for men to listen to women’s voices. Of course these weren’t his exact words, but it felt like he said, “Sisters, we’ve had enough of this little experiment of hearing your voices. Now get back in your Stepford boxes. We like to have a few displays of women on the shelf so we can pretend women are important. But keep your thoughts to yourself.”

        But I’m not willing to keep quiet anymore. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that my opinions are actually valid, and that I’ve got more important things to do than try to prove to the men of the church that I’m a good little Mormon girl.

        Thanks for expressing this so beautifully, Tessa. I need to print this poem out so I can underline all the phrases and lines that I appreciate so much! I’d love to read more of your writing.

      • Tessa says:

        Thank you, Anarene. I hope to write more.

  2. Violadiva says:

    This poem illustrates so well how some women discern their own needs and abilities, but how painful it can be when men tell us otherwise. And who should be deciding what we are, us or them? It seems like the course on “How to Woman” should be taught by Mother, no?

    Great Poem, Tessa. Thanks for writing and sharing it with all of us. I hope there are more where this came from!

  3. Abigayle says:

    Whew! It stings, but it’s a good pain, ya know?

    • Tessa says:

      Thank you. Writing it was a really cathartic experience. Despite the ending, writing the poem has allowed me to take back my voice and tear off that duct tape.

  4. Spunky says:

    This is so powerful, Tessa. I was single when I was endowed, so shrugged off the hearken covenant as not applicable to me. Even though I was finally sealed, my husband, a convert, thought that covenant was not applicable to our marriage. It never occurred to me how lucky I was in this until I heard others address the issue within their marriages. Funny how selective hearing creates ambivalence- -but that is the heart of your poem. Men can’t as readily hear these things because they don’t apply to them. Your words have expressed this perfectly. Thank you.

    • Tessa says:

      I get what you mean by selective hearing. It just doesn’t hit them in the gut the same way it hits me. And I’ve had my own selective hearings. When I first got endowed, hearkening just made me think “My husband is such a good man.” Now that covenant makes me alternately sick and furious. As good a man as my husband is, he is not my god.

  5. Liz says:

    This is gorgeous, Tessa. I would also love to read more of your writing.

  6. Em says:

    This was really powerful. The part about hearkening not requiring a voice… it was just really powerful.

  7. nrc42 says:

    This is beautifully harrowing.

    I have an arrangement on my wall of three frames. I’m sure many Mormons do. In the middle is a family photo. At the right is “The Living Christ.” The left frame, which once held The Proclamation, is empty.

    For now, I’m filling that frame with this poem.

  8. Natalie says:

    Beautiful, phenomenal and on point. Tessa, this is incredible and I wish many, many more women and men would read it. I wish you hope and happiness. I have two daughters and I’m trying my best to prepare a way and prepare them to be strong, independent, critical thinkers who will go after whatever their little hearts desire.

  9. This is powerful. Thank you, Tessa.

  10. Katie says:

    I cannot stop reading this poem. It has been haunting me all weekend. Thank you for putting this into words.

  11. Rashad says:

    Amazing! Its really remarkable piece of writing, I
    have got much clear idea concerning from this post.

  12. Gracias por la entrada. Me ha sido de gran utilidad. Estaría bien que todos los webmaster ofrecieran un artículo tan inteligentemente expresado como el
    suyo. De nuevo, Gracias. Saludos 🙂

  1. September 24, 2015

    […] Guest Post: To Hearken […]

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