Sisters in Arms

By Audre Lorde 1934–1992 Audre Lorde
The edge of our bed was a wide grid
where your fifteen-year-old daughter was hanging   
gut-sprung on police wheels
a cablegram nailed to the wood
next to a map of the Western Reserve
I could not return with you to bury the body   
reconstruct your nightly cardboards
against the seeping Transvaal cold
I could not plant the other limpet mine
against a wall at the railroad station
nor carry either of your souls back from the river   
in a calabash upon my head
so I bought you a ticket to Durban
on my American Express
and we lay together
in the first light of a new season.

Now clearing roughage from my autumn garden   
cow sorrel    overgrown rocket gone to seed   
I reach for the taste of today
the New York Times finally mentions your country   
a half-page story
of the first white south african killed in the “unrest”
Not of Black children massacred at Sebokeng   
six-year-olds imprisoned for threatening the state   
not of Thabo Sibeko, first grader, in his own blood   
on his grandmother’s parlor floor
Joyce, nine, trying to crawl to him
shitting through her navel
not of a three-week-old infant, nameless   
lost under the burned beds of Tembisa
my hand comes down like a brown vise over the marigolds   
reckless through despair
we were two Black women touching our flame   
and we left our dead behind us
I hovered    you rose    the last ritual of healing   
“It is spring,” you whispered
“I sold the ticket for guns and sulfa   
I leave for home tomorrow”
and wherever I touch you
I lick cold from my fingers
taste rage
like salt from the lips of a woman   
who has killed too often to forget   
and carries each death in her eyes   
your mouth a parting orchid   
“Someday you will come to my country   
and we will fight side by side?”

Keys jingle in the door ajar    threatening   
whatever is coming belongs here
I reach for your sweetness
but silence explodes like a pregnant belly   
into my face
a vomit of nevers.

Mmanthatisi turns away from the cloth
her daughters-in-law are dyeing
the baby drools milk from her breast
she hands him half-asleep to his sister
dresses again for war   
knowing the men will follow.
In the intricate Maseru twilights
quick    sad    vital
she maps the next day’s battle
dreams of Durban    sometimes
visions the deep wry song of beach pebbles
running after the sea.

FOOTNOTES: M-mán-tha-tisi: warrior queen and leader of the Tlokwa (Sotho) people during the mfecane (crushing), one of the greatest crises in southern African history. The Sotho now live in the Orange Free State, S. A.

Má-se-ru: scene of a great Tlokwa battle and now the capital of Lesotho

Durban: Indian Ocean seaport and resort area in Natal Province, S. A.

Audre Lorde, “Sisters in Arms” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by Audre Lorde. Reprinted with the permission of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.nortonpoets.com.

Source: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997)

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Poet Audre Lorde 1934–1992

Subjects Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Audre  Lorde

Biography

A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her poetry, and “indeed all of her writing,” according to contributor Joan Martin in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, “rings with passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.” Concerned with modern . . .

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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