Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Truth

Audre Lorde *Almost Sold-Out* - The Art of Molly Crabapple
Art by Molly Crabapple
IBEYI – “River”

The entire world could take a lesson from Audre Lorde right about now. As a self- proclaimed, “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”, Lorde’s work has always reflected the fluctuating stages of her life. So when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer, she did the unimaginable. She confronted the possibility of her impending death head-on and turned her silence into her salvation. As our society faces what will be known as the COVID-19 era, we are met with unsettling fear. Our lives don’t feel like they belong to us anymore rather we are just spectators witnessing a reality that is not within our control. Suddenly, our lives have not become about living anymore but rather surviving. In this post, I will draw insight from Audre Lorde’s interpretation of survival in her poems and essays to demonstrate that surviving a pandemic is not merely about existing in silence.

“We were never meant to survive”. This is the memorable ending line to Audre Lorde’s poem, “A Litany for Survival”. The survival that Lodre speaks of throughout the poem is not merely the persistence of one’s tangible body. For Lorde, survival is the act of treading the thin line between life and death. The poem opens with the lines,

“For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice” (Lorde, lines 1-5)

Lorde conveys that for those living within marginalized bodies, safety is a luxury. “The passing dreams of choice” signifies that having the choice to exist beyond the constraints of an oppressive society is a mere illusion. When our very existence becomes something that was never meant to happen, every day becomes a day of impending death as Lorde states,

“For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk” (Lorde, lines 15-18).

How we are “imprinted with fear” as children have everything to do with the ways we view our oppression as something that we are born into. Fear becomes our primal source of pedagogy and our lives become the persistence of that fear. Though Lorde’s poem exudes a sense of solidarity amongst those whose marginalized bodies were never meant to survive, it is not a poem of triumph. Towards the end of the poem, Lorde shifts her attention from the constant threat of fear and death to the significance of “speaking” and “remembering”. She reveals that whether we choose to speak or not, we will still die. Therefore, she challenges us to speak up as a necessary means of overcoming our fear.

The most remarkable aspect of this pandemic is that no person will make it through this unaffected. And as a result, most people are in a state of fear and anxiety as we anticipate the grief that is to come. Anticipatory grief is the feeling we get when we are uncertain about what the future holds. During this pandemic, I have been self-reflecting on how I can practice self-preservation while attempting to create tangible change. I’ve thought of how to navigate these difficult feelings of anxiety and anticipatory grief in hopes of turning them into active language. In her essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”, Lorde writes “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” (Sister Outsider, 41). Sometimes expressing our angst and anxiety in a society that seeks to silence us becomes just as powerful as it is daunting. Rather than just existing through our current life situation, we must find a way to turn our silence into healing; not only for ourselves but for others going through the same struggle. The exhausted phrase of “We Are All In This Together” can no longer just remain a trivial slogan for the coronavirus pandemic. We must use this universal experience to transcend our perspectives.

As a young black woman of color, I never truly felt that my voice held any jurisdiction in today’s society. But where I have fallen silent, poetry has always been my voice. In her essay, “Poetry Is Not A Luxury”, Lorde speaks of the importance of authorship as well as naming one’s experience. She conceptualizes poetry as a series of “births” where dreams, feelings, and knowledge conceive concepts, ideas, and understanding (Sister Outsider, 36). Though the mind can only communicate what it understands, Lorde depicts poetry as the unification of our abstract feelings with our concrete experiences. Lorde goes on to state, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (Sister Outsider, 37). Therefore, poetry only seems like a luxury to those whose voices are always heard and whose survival is always guaranteed. During these times of fear and uncertainty, we cannot remain silent— especially those that dwell within marginalized bodies. We must find a way to transcribe our thoughts and feelings; either we must speak them, draw them, sing them, dance them, or even scream them. I choose to write them:

“blessings on blessings”
by Alice Luo

Where do you find the blessings
When the ends refuse to meet
Like two magnets resisting the law of attraction
When the roof over your head
Clothes on your back
Food on your table
Are all borrowed
And the only thing you reap is debt and sorrow
Where do you find the blessings
When death is a mere lover
Whose presences entices you
Cold kind touch soothes
Cradles you into a deep sleep
That lasts longer than a gentle kiss
Where do you find the blessings
When struggle is your primal language
Yet your tongue refuse to utter its name
You fight its vowels
Its syllables feel like kitchen knives in throats
You try to swallow
But all you can is choke
On its truth
I’ve always seen the beauty in the struggle
The strength in the single mother
The rage in abandoned brothers
Sisterhoods tighter than any belt could
The next ghetto boy or girl to be misunderstood
Where do I find the blessings?
Concentrate on this…
The smell of concrete roses
The sound of melting ice cream
On warm summer nights
The touch of your lips pressed against mine
At this very moment in time
Nothing even matters…
  Nothing even matters... 
Nothing even matters,

Works Cited:

Lorde, Audre. “Sister Outsider Essays and Speeches.” Ten Speed Press, 2016.

Lorde, Auder. “A Litany For Survival.” 1978. Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147275/a-litany-for-survival. Accessed April 2020.

3 Replies to “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Truth”

  1. Alice, I cannot begin to express how genuinely I adore everything about this blog post. Your use of music, poetry, and of course your literary analysis are all incredibly pieced together. Audre Lorde would be so proud to have inspired the kind of poetry you’ve produced and would know doubt admire your word working.

  2. Alice,
    AMAZING! This was such an amazing blog. I was so enthralled and wrapped up in your blog that I jumped out of my skin when Trueman barked at me. You spoke so well of Lorde and her meanings within her works. Your use of music and poetry just elevated your blog and truly drove home your meaning. Lorde and I are very happy and proud of your blog, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

    Being apart of this class with you has been such a blessing and your blog post has been nothing less than amazing. Your resilience within your writing is so powerful and you truly have such a gift. I really enjoy where you said, “Lorde depicts poetry as the unification of our abstract feelings with our concrete experiences” for I have felt this is always been one of the most important themes within this course. Being aware of my privilege, I cannot say that I’ve ever felt left without a voice in this society as a white man, but I absolutely love that you can and SHOULD speak your thoughts even if society has often made you feel silenced. Poetry is so extremely powerful for it really does connect what we think with what we know in such a beautiful way and your work certainly does that. Good luck to you on all of your future endeavors!

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