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A good place to start analyzing this poem is to look up the word “Yemanja,” a Carribean goddess, who is often called the mother of all. The mythical tone of the poem is set up in its first stanza, but the frying pan image overlays the mythical idea of a goddess onto the everyday setting of a modern-day American kitchen.
Audrey Lorde is an American poet of Caribbean descent, and much of the poem navigates between the “dark and rich and hidden” mythical space, perhaps associated with the Caribbean. (Her parents were immigrants from Granada), and “the ivory hungers” of the world that the mother in this poem seems to want to conform to.
Much of the tension in the poem rests in the movement between the need for the mythical “black” “Mother” and an ordinary everyday “mother,” who might help the child navigate the two contradictory, but, like the sun and the moon, no less present sides of herself.
This poem can seem cryptic without some understanding of Audre Lorde, a black feminist poet for whom the spiritual and the political were one. She is probably most famous for her notion of "erotics" as not necessarily sexual (though it can be that) but as deep communion and sharing with another person as well as the capacity to experience joy: for Lorde, communion and joy, which she understands as spiritual states, become the basis of a transformative politics.
Further, we should keep in mind that
For Audre Lorde, knowledge of African myths and religions ... became “…the foundation of noneuropean female strength and power that nurtures each of our visions.”
In this poem, the narrator is mourning the way being raised by a mother who has internalized white values has made it harder for her as a daughter to find her own strength and wholeness.
The poem opens with chilling images that unite domesticity with cannibalism:
My mother had two faces and a frying potwhere she cooked up her daughtersinto girlsbefore she fixed our dinner.
Mother I needmother I needmother I need your blackness nowas the august earth needs rain.
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