Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

After The Ferguson Decision, A Poem That Gives Name To The Hurt

Since George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, I've been repeating these words by the poet Audre Lorde like a prayer. She writes:

For those of uswho were imprinted with fearlike a faint line in the center of our foreheadslearning to be afraid with our mother's milkfor by this weaponthis illusion of some safety to be foundthe heavy-footed hoped to silence usFor all of usthis instant and this triumphWe were never meant to survive.

Each time I re-read this stanza from "A Litany For Survival," the chaos and confusion I feel is cleared away. The lines are clean and defiant. They name our aches, our hurts, the paradoxes of our living, and slay that demon that dogs our days, fear.


By the poem's end, I'm washed clean. It's a blessing and a baptism and a challenge to me to engage in a world that would seem to deny my life.

I needed it again, when news came of the shooting death of Michael Brown, and then again this week.

This poem is meant to break spells and fevers. That line, "we were never meant to survive" warns us of difficulties that will come. I think of this poem when I see photos of black millennials protesting police brutality. Fire and smoke envelop them as they face off with the police force of what was once just another city in the middle of America.

Lorde ends her poem with these lines:

and when we speak we are afraidour words will not be heardnor welcomedbut when we are silentwe are still afraid So it is better to speakrememberingwe were never meant to survive.

This is a poem fitting for these times.

Syreeta McFadden writes for The Guardian.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit