Audre Lorde Comes to Spelman College Archive 2009 – The Feminist Wire

Audre Lorde Comes to Spelman College Archive 2009

By Opal Moore

Audre Lorde Image copyright: Dagmar Schultz

Audre Lorde
Image copyright: Dagmar Schultz


“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… 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

Opal 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.