Issue 11, A Poem for Women in Rage
On the uses of anger
“Yes, I am Black and lesbian, and what you hear in my
voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority. There is a difference.” -Audre Lorde
This week I wanted to write to you about rest, recovery, and self-care. Instead, after a long time of staring at the cursor in fury, I decided to write about rage. The rhetoric around protests being centered around “destruction”, “anger” and “rioting” as bad only works when you have the privilege to view the world through the lens of positive, “nice” and pleasing emotions only. When I first started going to therapy, it soon became clear that anger as an emotion was accessible to me in ways that other emotions were not, and at first, it was embarrassing to learn. On further examination I understood that we are indoctrinated to view anger as a weakness; I tried to people-please my way out of feeling those difficult emotions. But staying away from anger (and hence action) is not a privilege I have ever known or care to acquire anymore; more urgently, it is not a privilege any of us can afford at this point.
So I went back to an essay I remember having a huge impact on me – “Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” by Audre Lorde. I have been a fan of her tireless work as long as I can remember and it was time to take that small pocketbook out again. If you have not read Audre Lorde before, I urge you to do so now (start here, here and here). Lorde, self-described as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” was an American civil rights activist, poet, and writer. Her work largely deals with themes of Black female identity, racism, disability, feminism, and lesbian rights. In the essay Lorde writes “I cannot hide my anger to spare your guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivialises all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change, it can be useful since it is no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge… I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own.”
Today I wanted to share a poem of hers that leaves me gasping for air every time I read it. It is a difficult poem, but I urge you to stick with it and read it again and again, as the layers reveal themselves to you. I asked my brilliant friend, singer, and designer Christine Aaron to voice these gorgeous lines and I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing more justice to these incredible words.
I leave you with Audre’s words and Christine’s voice.
A Poem for Women in Rage
By Audre Lorde
A killing summer heat wraps up the city
emptied of all who are not bound to stay
a black woman waits for a white woman
leans against the railing in the Upper West Side street
the distant sounds of Broadway dim to lulling
until I can hear the voice of sparrows
like a promise I await
the woman I love
our slice of time
a place beyond the city's pain.
The corner phone booth a woman
glassed in by reflections of the street between us
her white face dangles
a tapestry of disasters seen
through a veneer of order
mouth drawn like an ill-used road map
to eyes without core, a bottled heart
impeccable credentials of old pain.
The veneer cracks open
she lurches through the glaze into my afternoon
our eyes touch like hot wire
and the street snaps into nightmare
a woman with white eyes is clutching
a bottle of Fleischmann's gin
is fumbling at her waistband
is pulling a butcher knife from her ragged pants
her hand arcs backward "You Black Bitch!"
the heavy blade spins out toward me
years of fury surging upward like a wall
I do not hear it
clatter to the pavement at my feet.
Gears of ancient nightmare churn
swift in familiar dread and silence
but this time I am awake, released
I smile. Now. This time is
I bend to the knife my ears blood-drumming
across the street my lover's voice
the only moving sound within white heat
"Don't touch it!"
I straighten, weaken, then start down again
hungry for resolution
simple as anger and so close at hand
my fingers reach for the familiar blade
the known grip of wood against my palm
for I have held it to the whetstone
a thousand nights for this
escorting fury through my sleep
like a cherished friend
to wake in the stink of rage
beside the sleep-white face of love.
The keen steel of a dreamt knife
sparks honed from the whetted edge with a tortured shriek
between my lover's voice and the grey spinning
a choice of pain or fury
slashing across judgment like a crimson scar
I could open her up to my anger
with a point sharpened upon love.
In the deathland my lover's voice
like the roar of a train derailed
on the other side of a river
every white woman's face I love
and distrust is upon it
eating green grapes from a paper bag
marking yellow exam-books tucked into a manila folder
orderly as the last thought before death
I throw the switch.
Through screams of crumpled steel
I search the wreckage for a ticket of hatred
my lover's voice
a knife at her throat.
In this steaming aisle of the dead
I am weeping
to learn the names of those streets
my feet have worn thin with running
and why they will never serve me
nor ever lead me home.
"Don't touch it!" she cries
I straighten myself
a drunken woman is running away
down the West Side street
my lover's voice moves
a shadowy clearing.
Corralled in fantasy
the woman with white eyes has vanished
to become her own nightmare
and a french butcher blade hangs in my house
I remember this knife
it carves its message into my sleeping
she only read its warning
written upon my face.