By Opal Moore
“I must always be/ building nests in a windy place”
. Audre Lorde, “Portrait”
“Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.”
. Gwendolyn Brooks, “2nd Sermon on the Warpland”
In a world of conventions, Audre Lorde was unconventional.
In a world of boxes, she ripped from the inside.
Or shook it, listening to hear what might rattle.
Or, for heartbeat.
That’s the way with silent things—you’ve got to
shake, thump, poke, disturb, anger,
sit them next to other silent things for clues
to be made into keys.
For a certain kind of woman, an archive seems too quiet.
All those boxes made to contain The Life.
For a certain kind of woman, an archive is
a paradox, a blasphemy of silence.
Poet Gwendolyn Brooks, from her staid perch,
consults the unruly woman tucked away inside herself,
inside another kind of box.
In “the rites for Cousin Vit” she makes memorial
the unquiet of a certain kind of woman’s life,
a life full of noise, and shimmy. They’ve got
some part of Cousin Vit in that box, but the poet knows:
“…the casket stand…..it cannot hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid’s contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh. Too much. Too much. Even now, surmise,
she rises in the sunshine. There she goes….
For a certain kind of woman, the crossed ankles
of sacred silences are not enough.
There’s too much— too much—the muchness of life!
that’s what the poet knows.
Audre Lorde demands to know What
are the words you do not yet have? What do you need
to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day
and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them,
still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today,
I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman,
because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because
I am myself—a Black woman warrior poet doing
my work—come to ask yourself,
are you doing yours?”
So Audre Lorde comes to Spelman College, boxed,
preserved. She’s nice and safe now, there, swaddled, kept.
No yelling allowed. Her life, her muchness, served
to us in boxes, in a silence of rustling papers.
But do we dare? Do we even dare to entertain the questions
she leaves behind? Questions about our failure to find
the words we need to have. Questions about the saying
that we leave unsaid. And do we dare
to name the tyrannies we swallow
day by day as we try to own them,
as we sicken and die of them?
Oh, that Audre, like Cousin Vit,
just keeps on kicking, kicking that eternal box
from the inside.
She scares us!
because she is a Requirement.
Unsafe. A threat.
“It is not the destiny of the Black American
to repeat white america’s mistakes,” Lorde trumpets
from the archival vault,
“But we will, if we mistake the trappings of
success in a sick society for
the signs of a meaningful life.” (SO)
It is right that Audre comes to Spelman.
Not to rest. To foster unrest. To shake open
the black boxes of our unstudied souls;
to scale the walls encasing some black girl’s joy
who, whether she knew it or not, came here
to this place to discover that all of her cussin’ folk out
and bustin’ heads was just another kind
of silence, a box she’d been in,
and to find out that the mother
of her self expression was lying in wait,
for her, waiting to be revived
through the warmth of her breathing
into that cold storage.
© 2009 Opal J. Moore
Opal Moore is the author of Lot’s Daughters. Her poems and stories are published in online and print journals including The Notre Dame Review, Callaloo, The Connecticut Review, and anthologies, including Honey, Hush! An Anthology of Black Women’s Humor. She is Associate Professor of English at Spelman College and Director of the Honor’s Program. She is a Fulbright Scholar, a Cave Canem Fellow, a Dupont Scholar, and Bellagio Fellow, and a mentor to her student poets and writers. Opal is currently conducting an interdisciplinary seminar based on the Audre Lorde archive housed at Spelman College.