Audre Lorde – A Litany for Survival

“So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”

– Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde’s A Litany for Survival is a prayer for the marginalized, those living on the shoreline or on the ‘constant edges of decision’, whose forbidden loves occur in hidden places and times. A champion of black and queer rights, Lorde once recounted that the reason she began to write her own poetry in her early teens was that she could not find existing poems to express what she was feeling. Here, she speaks to anxiety and insecurity rising from the most basic fears instilled in childhood, and the desire to break with these things and give her own children a future. The poem’s conclusion, ‘We were not meant to survive’ repeats like an invocation that is at once a statement of injustice and intent spiritual acceptance.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
From: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde

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