Five Politically-Inspired Poems by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was inspired by her identities as a lesbian feminist poet as well as the various cultures that make up the fabric of American life. Her work was influential to the anti-war, civil rights and women’s movement during the later half of the 20th century, and continues to resonate.

Many of these political poems are present in her book, The Black Unicorn, which “explores Lorde’s relationship with womanhood as she provides insight on the interwoven nature of oppression, sexism, African culture, sexual and spiritual awakening, and race…”  (from Intersectionality)


Power

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
yourself
instead of your children.
 
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
 
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
 
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
 
I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
. . . . . . . . . . .
  Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
 
10 Thought-Provoking Quotes from Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

. . . . . . . . . . .

The Black Unicorn

The black unicorn is greedy.

The black unicorn is impatient.
'The black unicorn was mistaken 
for a shadow or symbol
and taken
through a cold country 
where mist painted mockeries 
of my fury.
It is not on her lap where the horn rests 
but deep in her moonpit 
growing.
The black unicorn is restless 
the black unicorn is unrelenting 
the black unicorn is not 
free.

Who Said It Was Simple

There are so many roots to the tree of anger 
that sometimes the branches shatter 
before they bear.
Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march 
discussing the problematic girls 
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject 
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed 
see causes in color 
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive 
all these liberations.

Hanging Fire

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me

the boy I cannot live without 
still sucks his tumb 
in secret
how come my knees are 
always so ashy
what if I die
before the morning comes
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.
I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party 
my room is too small for me
suppose I de before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do 
and too much
that has to be done
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.
Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one 
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

 

Coal

I
is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open

how a diamond comes into a knot of flame 
how sound comes into a words, coloured 
by who pays what for speaking.
 
Some words are open like a diamond 
on glass windows 
singing out within the crash of sun 
Then there are words like stapled wagers 
in a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
and come whatever will all chances 
the stub remains 
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
 
Some words live in my throat 
breeding like adders.
 Other know sun 
seeking like gypsies over my tongue 
to explode through my lips 
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
 
Some words 
bedevil me 

Love is word, another kind of open.
 
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame 
I am Black because I come from the earth's inside 
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.
Audre Lorde
 
Learn more about Audre Lorde

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