Reading Audre Lorde’s poem “Hanging Fire,” the most immediate thing noticed is the emotion of anxiety in the speaker. The speaker is a teenager, experiencing typical anxieties like learning “how to dance/ in time for the next party,” disappointment about not being chosen for the Math Team, wearing braces, and what will happen if he or she dies (Lorde 12-13). The diction and tone of the poem increases the feeling of teenage anxiety, because it is in free verse, there is very little punctuation, which makes the words come in a rush just like worries whirl through the head.
The imagery of the poem is of a teen sitting at home worrying about his or her life. For the mental picture, the repetition of the lines “and momma’s in the bedroom/ with the door closed” at the end of each verse makes me think that this door is within view as the teen considers all the problems of life. The door symbolizes how the mother and the teen are separated, unable to communicate, and that the teen lacks guidance about the confusing issues of life. This is one example of figurative language, because it is simply a door between the mother and speaker in the literal sense, but in a figurative sense it is a much bigger separation of communication.
There are a lot of subtleties and complexities in the poem because of the poet’s background. Lorde was “A self-styled ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,’” who “dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia” (“Biography”). This knowledge brings new meanings to lines in the poem like “my skin has betrayed me,” which could be about pimples, black skin, or both (Lorde 2). The lines “but finally/ tell the truth about me” could be the teen’s anxiety about being gay. These subtleties and complexities come from the language that has both a literal and figurative meaning.
The word choices I found most interesting are ones that connect to others like “always so ashy” and “what if I die” because the thoughts of the speaker hop from ashy knees to the idea they could be die and reduced to ashes (Lorde 7-8). Also, the speaker asks “why do I have to be/ the one/ wearing braces” but then says “I have nothing to wear tomorrow” (Lorde 28-31). It is really interesting to see how the idea of “wearing” in the first thought leads directly to a different kind of “wearing” in the next thought. It is really interesting to see how the poet uses words that have double meanings. Another thing I find interesting about the poem is that it is not clear what the sex is of the speaker. This comes from word choices the poet did not use, rather than ones she did use. The poem will mean different things depending on the sex of its speaker. The thing I always seem to have trouble with is understanding the meaning of the titles of poems, and this one is no exception. I would like to know why it is titled “Hanging Fire.”
“Biography: Audre Lord.” Poetry Foundation, 2011. Web.
Lorde, Audrey. “Hanging Fire.”