after Audre Lorde
Do not carry your voice
to your grave. Your silence
will not protect us, will not
ease the dreams we have
of the worst that happens
when words fail to get through.
Do not let your tongue be
held, cut out, left to wither
from disuse for truth. Allow it
to cross the man-made lines
in Iran, in Syria, in Afghanistan
that keep you still, not noticed.
Share it because your life cannot
begin until you say the word
first. Say it in faith that it will pass
through a valley and be heard
on a mountain top in Haiti. Practice
its honored syllables of disruption
in Cairo's biggest square, risk it
to call back the disappeared
in Argentina, to cradle in loving
arms the children trafficked
in the streets of our own downtowns.
When you dress to go to dinner
next week at the People's House,
don't worry how you'll look
when you tip the glass to toast.
Stand and be moved from silence.
Name the unnamed your self.
Offer a vision of a woman unafraid,
heading to the front of the bus,
marching in Washington, New York,
and San Francisco, sending candles
on a wave to Japan. Let them know you
won't take another catcall in India,
have vowed to undo the laws
of these United States that fail
to leave us children unsilenced.
Dare to paint your nails lavender;
show your face not plain. Dare to
say you have a say in what happens
to your body, to every body —
of your mother, your daughter,
your sisters everywhere. Raise
and fold your hands in the gesture
of namaste. Inspect your bruises,
address the clarity of your pain,
but never let them cover your mouth.
© 2013 Maureen E. Doallas
This poem is inspired by my recent re-reading of Audre Lorde's "The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action", a speech presented December 28, 1977, to the Modern Language Association's Lesbian and Literature Panel, Chicago, Illinois. (See Lesbian Herstory Archives Digital Collection for a sound recording.) The speech was first published in Sinister Wisdom 6 (1978) and The Cancer Journals (© 1980, 1997 by Audre Lorde and Aunt Lute Books). "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action" also is available in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Crossing Press, 1984, 2007) on GoogleBooks.