In this poem, Lorde is reacting to white oppression. This comes from a real experience in which she reacted to the acquittal of a white police officer who shot and killed a ten-year-old black child.
In the first large stanza, the poet tries to explain the experience of being lost in a sea of white oppression. Rather than using the sea metaphor, she uses the desert. She feels lost in a white desert. The only fluid in the desert is the blood of the dead black child. She has no reason to thirst for this fluid; she has no loyalty to white dominance. Still, she does thirst, saying,
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
This illustrates how Lorde is trapped in a society that continues to thirst for this blood. In other words, she cannot escape this world. Symbolized by the white desert, this world thirsts for this kind of violence because it stems from a history of white oppression. This world is powerful, as shown by how Lorde, a black woman, is trapped in it.
Lorde describes how the lone black juror was "convinced" by the eleven white jurors. This demonstrates the power of white influence and authority:
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4'10'' black Woman's frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
In the final stanza, Lorde says she must learn how to deal with her rage. If she does not, her rage might cause her to act in the same violent and oppressive ways she is criticizing:
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
Lorde demonstrates the corrupting potential of power. She also shows how power is used in oppression, how it is used in rage and retaliation, and finally, how it might be used to work against powerful and oppressive entities.