Audre Lorde in Mexico, Maya Angelou in Ghana

September 26, 2012

2012 marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Audre Lorde.  She had died at the age of 58, after 14 years of battling with breast cancer.

But even before that, Lorde had always seemed associated with the imperfect, untrustworthy, uncooperative body.  She was born severely nearsighted, to the point of being legally blind.   And yet somehow the blindness and the cancer were just brute facts – they’re not to be conjured away, there’s no looking away from them, but they’re a consideration rather than a determinant.   Her last volume of poetry, published posthumously, is called “The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance.”

Audre Lorde was born Audrey Lorde, but decided to drop the “y” so that the two halves of her name would end symmetrically.  It seems a good way of putting one’s signature on what one is stuck with.   She talks about this in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (a new genre according to her, a “biomythography”).   There, she also talks about the exhilarating year she spent in Mexico, 1954, at the National University of Mexico, a magical time, a magical sense of the body’s well-being.  Lorde had already been diagnosed with breast cancer at that point ( Zami came out in 1982), but there’s no concession to that, no concession to what is to come.

It makes me think of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (1986), Maya Angelou’s “biomythography” of the years she spent in Ghana, beginning with the traumatic car accident of her son Guy but hardly ending with it.  In both cases, tragedy on the horizon, tragedy in the air, but meanwhile, some serious walking in those traveling shoes.

A symmetry that lands on its feet.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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