Coal on a Snowy Day

It’s the first snowy day in Massachusetts. We’re about to light a fire in our old coal stove and I was reminded of the poem “Coal” (in the book of the same name) by Audre Lorde. A poem that is decades old, this poem struck me as being as relevant as ever in today’s culture wars over whose voice gets to be heard and who are the gatekeepers of such listening. It also took on new meaning as we stare down the threat of repealing the Net Neutrality laws that allow us the same access to the same information, rather than creating a channel of corporate-controlled information to a chosen few who can afford it. Yes, all of these things were triggered by rereading Lorde’s poem. And I think she’d be pleased to know that, because she was the ultimate fully integrated human being, aware of the systems in which she lived and carving her own blazing path through that darkness in a time when voices like hers were so marginalized: woman, African American, lesbian, feminist. This poem today reads as a bit of a manifesto of these times to me, as I imagine it must’ve felt to her when she wrote it.


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 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 passing crash of 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 the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
now take my word for jewel in the open light.


Here’s to Audre Lorde, a woman deeply of, and ahead of, her time. And here’s to hoping that we take every person’s word as jewels “in the open light.”

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