An Elegy for Audre Lorde




I first came across the writing of Audre Lorde when I was reading poetry by Black women writers for a paper--mostly Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, and Alice Walker. I was also reading literary criticism and I kept seeing the same name, again and again, Audre Lorde -- "Poetry is Not a Luxury," Sister Outsider. Each time I saw her name it was (I now realize) like encountering a toe, a fingernail, or an eyelid of a giant. Only when you recognize the connection of what you see before you to all the things around it can you see it for what it is--an enormous, gentle but fierce mountain, pushing aside clouds as if they are just mist.

Without such exaggeration as this, Audre Lorde can be called the mother of Queer politics. I call her "mother" unabashedly because she found no contradiction in being a mother and a lesbian, in being feminist and raising a "man child" and a daughter, being Black and having a white partner. She showed us the links between racism, sexism, capitalism and heterosexism and warned us that the Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, that the erotic was not something to be feared but rather the source of much power, and how "infinitely complex any move for liberation must be."

The words we are still arguing over including--bisexual, heterosexism, erotic; the words so many of us can't manage to include in the names of our organizations, our speech, our writing, appeared in her essays unproblematically fourteen or more years ago. Her writing has been so important to so many people because she taught us to transform our silence into power because our fears will not prevent our deaths. Her book, The Cancer Journals, has helped so many who are living with terminal illnesses and she lived with cancer for fourteen years until she died on the island of St. Croix in November of 1992.

For us in Colorado, November of 1992 was not a good time. In the aftermath of Amendment 2, Audre Lorde can offer a lot in telling us how to proceed, what real family values are, and perhaps something about how to turn anger into strength and power in the face of so many others who tell us to put our anger away. The title of one of Audre Lorde's books of poetry is Our Dead Behind Us. We can take the title to mean that we move forward always in struggle, not stopping or looking back in mourning, not letting our tears obscure our vision. It can be read also in this way--our dead are ghosts and memories, pushing us from closets into streets, pushing us from silence into voice--we walk dead among the ghosts, who are alive.


December 6, 1992



© 1993, 1995 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal
Original Graphic Image © 1995 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal

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