(Masterpieces of American Literature)

One of Lorde’s best poems, “Walking Our Boundaries” was written after she was forced to confront her own mortality in a battle with breast cancer. About a walk she shared in the small garden surrounding the house that she and her partner owned, this poem is beautifully narrated and quietly blends symbolism together with deep feeling. The poem begins, “This first bright day has broken/ the back of winter./ We rise from war/ . . . / both stunned that sun can shine so brightly/ after all our pain.”

As the pair cautiously inspects their “joint holding,” they talk of “ordinary articles/ with relief.” A sense of delicacy and unexpected peace is conveyed, which implies just how severe was the “last winter’s storm.” In the midst of the symbolism Lorde employs, she does not lose her sense of perspective, saying that “it does not pay to cherish symbols/ when the substance/ lies so close at hand/ waiting to be held.” This thought blends into the next, as her lover’s hand “falls off the apple bark/ like casual fire/ along my back,” the light, affectionate touch breaking the back of her emotional winter as the sun has broken the back of the physical winter.

The calm delicacy of tone and technique in this poem is in startling contrast to the passions and turmoil Lorde expressed in The Cancer Journals, reflecting the peace that comes after “war”; the battle is, at least for the time being, over. In The...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Avi-Ram, Amitai F. “Apo Koinou in Lorde and the Moderns: Defining the Differences.” Callaloo 9 (Winter, 1986): 193-208.

Hull, Gloria T. “Living on the Line: Audre Lorde and Our Dead Behind Us.” In Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women, edited by Cheryl A. Wall. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989.

Olson, Lester C. “Liabilities of Language: Audre Lorde Reclaiming Difference.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 84, no. 4 (November, 1998): 448-470.

Opitz, May, Katharine Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz, eds. Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out. Translated by Anne V. Adams. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Parker, Pat. Movement in Black: The Collected Poetry of Pat Parker. Oakland, Calif.: Diana Press, 1978.

Perreault, Jeanne. Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.