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As Promised: Audre Lorde Poetry

January 13, 2010

Here is the poem that I promised in the Mary Daly thread. Feel fortunate because I could not find a complete copy on line so I had to drag out the old Heath Anthology of American Literature and type each word. Just a tidbit, Heath lists Lorde’s poems under, “Postmodernity and Difference: Promises and Threats.” LOL! Power is the poem that made me think, “Damn, who is this Audre Lorde?”

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 10-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 or 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 11 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 ¾ time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”

1978

11 Comments
  1. January 13, 2010 9:52 pm

    Of course people can interpret poetry however they like and I am sure some will be stuck on the protagonist’s choice of murder and rape victim as the means to alleviate some rage. In my opinion, to make the focus so literal is doing a disservice and to say otherwise is not apologist. To me, the set up of perpetrator/victim (powerless 4’10” black woman who has been “dragged over the coals of four centuries of white male approval”/ and glorified white mother of a son, perhaps the mother of the 37 year old murdering white police officer, is illustrating the blurring of poetry and rhetoric while also utilizing the binary for political assertion. The protagonist is so incredibly powerless, that to kill anyone else in any other fashion would not create enough of a reaction for the patriarchy to notice (react and/or provoke thought).

    • atheistwoman permalink
      January 14, 2010 1:55 am

      I don’t know Kitty. I might just still have racist and classist issues to work through, but that part truly bothers me.

      I like the rest of it.

  2. theunmarrieddaughter permalink
    January 14, 2010 2:36 am

    huh.

    I like it. I like the rage, I love the anger, I love the fact that I can see the black woman jury member colluding to other white men, who psychologically beat her down until her feelings, her ideas, her core of what is just were stripped away.

    I like the ending, I like the way she says if she doesn’t learn the difference between poetry(could that be an allegory for true power? for non-violent action?) and rhetoric(the seemingly distortion of power-another allegory?) that she will become what she abhors, that her rage lost not the power of love(because to me that is what poetry is, the power of love, of powerful ideas, the power of the goodness of human spirit) but on the anger(the rhetoric) she will become violent and choose an innocent defenseless symbol of her oppressor, and do the most heinous, (and what white men fear the most a black “out of control, i.e, out of white man’s control” person) raping the white man’s white woman? Is she choosing the powerful image of the most defenseless and innocent and yet most holy, “white woman and mother/grandmother” to work her rage out on as a contrast or comparison to the innocent defenseless child murdered by a white police officer? As in saying, see, white people, you didn’t think the murder of a black child was horrorifc, but you find the rape of white grandmother to be so, to be evil? Aren’t they both evil?

    I don’t know, I am white, so I don’t know, maybe I don’t get the poem. I am just running through the thoughts in my head. I like this though Kitty, although in saying that I like all of this poem, I also need to say (which I know you all know I am not, but I need to say it for anyone who might be hmm, trolling) I am not for either the police murdering black children nor the raping of white grandmothers.

  3. January 14, 2010 2:59 am

    I do think the contrast between the murder of black children, the sterilization of black women, and the rape of white grandmothers is a powerful one. But this particular poem is too male-identified for me not to take issue with the end. Had the black child murdered been female (she’d likely have been raped as well), I might see it a bit differently. But her identification with the dead male child and her subsequent prediction of male violence against a woman in the event that power does not prevail over rhetoric is too, I don’t know, common. It seems like more of a justification for rape than it does any real impetus to actually empower the oppressed.

    • January 14, 2010 3:20 am

      I was going to include how at the time she was a mother to a son (and was probably negotiating what all that entailed) but did not want to be too much of an unofficial don’t know much about her personally, biographer. Perhaps later she may have grown to disconnect from patriarchy and the male worth. I see it in the context of that time. As in a time that she did not feel she could live out loud as a lesbian (if she even knew of her lesbianism yet. I think I read where she had some affairs with women before finally living with one until her death. I will have to look up the timeline to be sure.). Nevertheless, you are right about the male identification. One has to comb through her works to find a piece that does not refer to the next generation as male.

      And, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thrown a Morrison book out of my hand because of her love for the menz. It is hard to find an author who spins a good yarn without the male presence driving the plot.

    • January 14, 2010 3:37 am

      Actually it looks like in 1978 she was smack in the middle of an affair with a woman. I guess the ties that bind take time to jettison.

  4. January 14, 2010 4:52 am

    Well when the Mary Daly thing came up and the references to Lorde’s open letter, I swear what I thought I remembered at first was that the letter had been about Daly’s separatism. What I was apparently remembering was something I thought I understood from a different essay about being the mother of boy children. In any case, this whole couple of weeks has made me think about what I first felt when I read (whatever I read or thought I read back then) about the pain a mother of a boy child might feel around issues of lesbian separatism, if she had any lesbian separatist leanings at all. And then I thought about where I’m at, in sorting things out for myself around all of it, now.

    I have mixed feelings about the poem above – the male-identification is hard for me not from the old white lady angle but from what Margie referenced – the child being a boy child. I can’t not-notice it, or not-have-feelings about it anymore. I am close to a niece and a nephew who are both toddlers, and I see everything, already, with how she is viewed and treated versus how he is viewed and treated. And these are people who would pass for liberal feminist type folks in their beliefs and behaviors. But it bothers me, it bothers me that the safest thing for me to do is to just expect that regardless of the source (mainstream hetero folks, lesbians of an overtly feminist bent, queer-whoevers, reGARDless), the default representation of humanness is always going to be male. In stories, in poems, in outcries about oppression. Always. Always male.

    And the feeling like talking about that in the open is an unfair thing to say when it comes to women who identify as lesbians and feminists and who have male children. Like I’m betraying them by not just choosing to see it differently or saying nothing. I don’t want or need any other woman to not love whoever her children are. It just is hard for me that what gets *told*, what is used to convey *meaning* when it comes to suffering, always seems so based on the idea that the graveness of it is graver when it’s happening to boys and men.

  5. January 14, 2010 9:59 pm

    It is hard to find an author who spins a good yarn without the male presence driving the plot.

    Yes. Exactly. I have been trying to write about this, too, but oh so very incoherently/confusedly.

    Thank you for sharing the poem. How typical for it to be filed under ‘Postmodernity and difference’ – difference? More ways to marginalise black women’s voices – never, never, never, allow them into the category ‘Literature’. I read this as a war poem – it reminded me of some of the famous first world war poetry. That’s what it connected me to, more than anything, with its visceral, physical violence and the deep sense of history.

  6. January 15, 2010 9:09 pm

    Everything she wrote was just like that too–BAM–right to the gut! Great stuff. Thanks for reprinting her work here.

    As far as I know, no one else has during these Mary Daly follies…

  7. pseudoadrienne permalink
    January 15, 2010 10:30 pm

    Re: Male-identification in “feminist” writings

    Breaking the odious “habit”– for a lack of a better word– to be male-identified in one’s prose as a feminist writer is a part of the struggle, on the path to which a woman could truly break free of the patriarchy’s shackles. (I stopped blogging to re-examine my own issues with being so male-identified within my blogging and thinking, and devoted more time to reading radical feminist philosophy and blogs.) It is ingrained on the psyches of women since the time we were girls to identify with the oppressors, at the expense of female solidarity. If were are pitted against each other we are distracted from the truth…that men and their collective power thrive off of the erasure of female self-awareness, vis a vis female identified narratives. Women of Color– though I am half-white half-black I identify myself as a woman of color and fully embrace my Blackness– are told over again to support the patriarchy within our communities, and that racial equality can “only” be achieved with a Black Patriarchy, a Latino Patriarchy, an Islamic Patriarchy, (and so on) subverting the White Judeo-Christian Patriarchy. “Racial Solidarity” at the expense of WOC Solidarity, devoted to defeating patriarchies regardless of color, class, nationality, religion, and so on. Sister Outsider and Gyn/Ecology sit side by side on my coffee table. Audre Lorde and Mary Daly, these juxtaposing radical feminists are a representation of my own juxtaposing radical feminist psyche. I am a bisexual WOC who wants a world where women and girls embrace possessing a female-identified psyche and express it within our narratives. Patriarchal prose come in “flavors,” if you will, and regardless of how bland, spicy, pungent, or sweet they may be, each flavor is still toxic to the female mind and body. Atrophying our brains and hobbling our bodies into the perfect automatons, to parrot their prose and turn us against our sisters and mothers. I call for an Amazonomachy on our own ingrained propensity to be male-identified in our prose and psyches. Audre Lorde and Mary Daly called upon us to kindle the Amazon passion within our minds and bodies, so what are we waiting for? I apologize if I was too verbose or off topic. Long time lurker’s mistake.

  8. January 16, 2010 4:07 am

    Pseudoadrienne – I regret to inform you that it’s come to my attention that the Amazons were trans women, so I’m afraid we’re all going to have to pack it in and go home.

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