Poem #8: Between Ourselves by Audre Lorde

Audre LordeAudre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was a Caribbean-American writer and activist.

Between Ourselves

Once when I walked into a room
my eyes would seek out the one or two black faces
for contact or reassurance or a sign
I was not alone
now walking into rooms full of black faces
that would destroy me for any difference
where shall my eyes look?
Once it was easy to know
who were my people.

If we were stripped of all pretense
to our strength
and our flesh was cut away
the sun would bleach all our bones
as white
as the face of my black mother
was bleached white by gold
or Orishala
and how
does not measure me?

I do not believe
our wants have made all our lies
holy.

Under the sun on the shores of Elimina
a black man sold the woman who carried
my grandmother in her belly
he was paid with bright yellow coins
that shone in the evening sun
and in the faces of her sons and daughters.
When I see that brother behind my eyes
his irises are bloodless and without colour
his tongue clicks like yellow coins
tossed up on this shore
where we share the same corner
of an alien and corrupted heaven
and whenever I try to eat
the words
of easy blackness as salvation
I taste the colour
of my grandmother’s first betrayal.

I do not believe
our wants
have made our lies
holy.

But I do not whistle his name at the shrine of Shopana
I do not bring down the rosy juices of death upon him
nor forget Orishala
is called the god of whiteness
who works in the dark wombs of night
forming the shapes we all wear
so that even the cripples and dwarfs and albinos
are sacred worshipers
when the boiled corn is offered.

Humility lies
in the face of history
I have forgiven myself
for him
for the white meat
we all consumed in secret
before we were born
we shared the same meal
when you impale me
upon your lances of narrow blackness
before you hear my heart speak
mourn your own borrowed blood
your own borrowed visions.

Do not mistake my flesh for the enemy
do not write my name in the dust
before the shrine of the god of smallpox
for we are all children of Eshu
god of chance and unpredictable
and we each wear many changes
inside our skin.

Armed with scars
healed
in many different colors
I look in my own faces
as Eshu’s daughter crying
if we do not stop killing
the other in ourselves
the self that we hate
in others
soon we shall all lie
in the same direction
and Eshidale’s priests will be very busy
they who alone can bury
all those who seek their own death
by jumping up from the ground
and landing upon their heads.

1. Orishala: another name for Obatala, Yoruba god of creation. The worshipers of Obatala must wear white clothes and eat white food.
2. Elimina; seaport town in Southern Ghana, founded by Portuguese traders.

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8 comments

  1. This is such a moving poem. And I really like the descriptions–the man’s tongue sounds like the coins he earned from selling her grandmother…

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. I have an Audre Lorde book in my TBR pile that I’ve been meaning to read, but you are the first person in a decade or more that I have ever heard mention her. I like this poem a lot, so thanks for sharing it.

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    • You are welcome. Audre Lorde was really a force of nature – in feminism and gay rights. She was also a really great writer and poet.

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  3. What a fascinating poem. These poems you keep posting really make me think a lot. I don’t know that I get what the author intended out of them, or that I even get much of anything out of some of them, but I am really enjoying the exercise. This is another ‘thinker’, I will definitely be coming back to re-read it through the day.

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    • Audre Lorde was a staunch feminist and an activist. She always took issue with racism in the feminist movement and also intolerance within the larger African community. This poem alludes to the betrayals by black people against other black people. Hope this helps.

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      • Thank you! Knowing a bit more of her back story certainly does make the poem more accessible. My first thoughts on reading where that there was dissent within a group of people, people who were critical of differences they might see between the author and themselves. I also got the betrayal part from the talk about her great-grandmother being sold by a black man. I am happy to know that I had things kind of right!

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