Remembering Audre Lorde 20 Years Later

It’s Saturday night and the house is filled with the not-so-distant voices of neighbors and friends, visitors and housemates. Snippets of conversation float in from the kitchen, and I am here, a little antisocial, looking up poems by Audre Lorde. She died in 1992, at 58 years old, before I had ever heard her name.

Some of the reasons I love her have nothing to do with her writing. For example, she was a librarian. Like me, she attended Columbia University. She put words to intersectionality, a concept so ubiquitous at conferences and academic conversations that the world seems myopic prior to its nomenclature. I love the perfect symmetry of the five letters of her first and last name, that each one ends with the letter e.

Two great New York City organizations bare her name: The Audre Lorde Project, which serves queer people of color, and The Callen-Lorde Center, which provides primary care services to the queer community.

I’ll end with one of my favorite Lorde poems, which deals with one of my favorite topics (adolescence). It’s sweet and accurate, and I rarely see it out and about. Savor with me, now:

Progress Report

When you do say hello I am never sure
if you are being saucy or experimental or
merely protecting some new position.
Sometimes you gurgle while asleep
and I know tender places still intrigue you.
When you question me on love now
shall I recommend a dictionary
or myself?

You are the child of wind and ravens I created
always my daughter I cannot recognize
the currents where you swim and dart
through my loving
upstream to your final place of birth
but you never tire of hearing
how I crept out of my mother’s house
at dawn, with an olive suitcase
crammed with books and fraudulent letters
and an unplayed guitar.

I see myself flash through your eyes
in moments caught between history
and obedience
those moments grow each day
before you comply
as, when did washing dishes
change from privilege to chore?
I watch the hollows deepen above your hips
wondering if I taught you Black enough
until I see all kinds of loving still intrigue
you growing more and more
dark rude and tender
unafraid.

What you once took for granted
you now refuse to take at all
even I knock before I enter
the shoals of furious choices
not my own
that flood through your secret reading
nightly under cover.

I have not seen you, but
I hear the pages rustle
from behind closed doors.

Audre Lorde [1971]

 

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