“Coal” by Audre Lorde

The sonic lushness and the visual arrests and rests of this poem never fail to strike me, across decades now and hundreds of readings. For the past many years "Coal" has lived on my office door, and despite having long ago memorized it, I stop to read it over and over again -- separate, distinct pleasures. Lorde's poem is a beloved friend, as well as a powerful, urgent, and continuously timely testimony.
I
Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame
How a sound comes into a word, coloured
By who pays what for speaking.

 

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

 

Love is a word another kind of open—
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth’s inside
Take my word for jewel in your open light.
This poem was selected by bk, liu post faculty.
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