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The Black Unicorn: Poems

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The Black Unicorn is a collection of poems by a woman who, Adrienne Rich writes, "for the complexity of her vision, for her moral courage and the catalytic passion of her language, has already become, for many, an indispensable poet." Rich continues: "Refusing to be circumscribed by any simple identity, Audre Lorde writes as a Black woman, a mother, a daughter, a Lesbian, a feminist, a visionary; poems of elemental wildness and healing, nightmare and lucidity. Her rhythms and accents have the timelessness of a poetry which extends beyond white Western politics, beyond the anger and wisdom of Black America, beyond the North American earth, to Abomey and the Dahomeyan Amazons. These are poems nourished in an oral tradition, which also blaze and pulse on the page, beneath the reader's eye."

136 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1978

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About the author

Audre Lorde

108 books4,083 followers
Audre Lorde was a revolutionary Black feminist. Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes' 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. During this time, she was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's Press and edited by Diane di Prima, a former classmate and friend from Hunter College High School. Dudley Randall, a poet and critic, asserted in his review of the book that Lorde "does not wave a black flag, but her blackness is there, implicit, in the bone."

Her second volume, Cables to Rage (1970), which was mainly written during her tenure at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, addressed themes of love, betrayal, childbirth and the complexities of raising children. It is particularly noteworthy for the poem "Martha", in which Lorde poetically confirms her homosexuality: "[W]e shall love each other here if ever at all." Later books continued her political aims in lesbian and gay rights, and feminism. In 1980, together with Barbara Smith and Cherríe Moraga, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of colour. Lorde was State Poet of New York from 1991 to 1992.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 277 reviews
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,571 followers
August 26, 2014
These poems are like shards of glass refracting the blurred image of some sombre new insight into the human condition - the agony of love, the pangs of coming to grips with the idea of racial segregation in a world one previously thought had no demarcations, the pervasive pessimism of living as reaffirmed by the morning newspaper, an elegy to the memories of a childhood friend whose time on earth ran out too soon, the melancholic ruminations of a prostitute, the absurdity of children of today being raised like slaughterhouse pigs to be sent to the war-front tomorrow.
Coming in and out of cities
untouched by their magic
I think without feeling
this is what men do
who try for some connection
and fail
and leave
five dollars on the table.

If the annals of literature are to be consulted, most of these are time-worn subjects which other more renowned poets have regurgitated throughout their distinguished careers, after molding them in accordance with their perceptions of the world and its many idiosyncrasies. And yet Audre Lorde's words, imbued with despondency, regret, hope and fortitude at the same time, tempt you to read them again and again. Her lines flow effortlessly despite their innate simplicity, maintaining an enviable rhythmic symmetry, rendering the reader's tendency to puzzle over esoteric references unnecessary since there are almost none.
There are a handful of poems here, in praise of the female and androgynous forms of divinity worshipped by the inhabitants of the historical kingdom of Dahomey and the Yoruba people of western Nigeria, which bring to light the oft-overlooked aspects of the cultural ethos of African people. But there's a conveniently provided glossary of African terms at the end to better facilitate complete understanding of these.
You were not my first death.
but your going was not solaced by the usual
rituals of separation
the dark lugubrious murmurs
and invitations by threat
to the grownups' view
of a child's inelegant pain
so even now
all these years of death later
I search through the index
of each new book
on magic
hoping to find some new spelling
of your name

The implications hidden between her verses do not reinforce a kind of self-obsessed confessionalism as often found in Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton's works or the heavy-handed inclusion of so many allusions that the poet's urge to communicate is buried under towering ambitions of dismantling poetic conventions.

Sometimes, her words give the impression of mildly cryptic messages casually scribbled at the back of a notebook, perhaps, while she may have been staring out of her window distractedly. Sometimes, they are her anguished lament, her impassioned protest, wrenched out of her by the brutality of the world or the injustice perpetually dished out to those clinging to the lowermost rungs of the societal ladder for dear life. Her 'Power', one of the most influential and well-known poems from her entire oeuvre, simmers with a righteous rage, intense enough to blow a hole through the edifice of 'white supremacist patriarchy' aside from being a tribute to the memory of young Clifford Glover, a 10-year-old African American boy shot dead by a white cop on duty in South Jamaica, Queens, New York in '73, who was later acquitted by a white-majority jury with a single black female judge.
Today that 37-year-old white man with
13 years of police forcing
has been set free
by 11 white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one black woman who said
"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
until she let go of the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

Lorde remains one of the few poets in American history who had to contend with the tyranny of conforming to the demands of too many labels conferred on persecuted minorities - black woman in a white man's world, radical feminist, lesbian, civil rights activist. And yet she managed to breach the boundaries of these individual identities by singing in a richly resonant voice whose musicality still holds the power of bridging gaps, relaying the stories of the voiceless and the marginalised, healing the scars left by turbulent times and smoothening out our countless differences across continents and timelines.
In my eyes, that makes her a hero more than a poet.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,217 followers
October 26, 2014
Reading Audre Lorde has proved to be an equally challenging and rewarding endeavor. Her poetry requires allocated concentration in order to meet the plurality of Lorde’s artistic expression. For plural identity, plurality of dissimilarities and oppressions, plurality of meaning and intention permeate the poems included in this anthology.
There is not a spare word in the amalgamation of colloquial use of language that includes press news, mental dialogues with long gone friends or family and the contrasting sophistication of Lorde’s exotic brushstrokes that paint her works with the alien color of African mythology.
Lorde fuses the casual with the folkloric with firmness akin to a warrior of the written gospel fighting to banish the tyranny of imposed silence. The result is a groundbreaking combination that expands Lorde’s poetic voice, articulates the Afro-American quintessence making use of innovative metaphors and unorthodox imagery and elevates personal issues like Lorde’s sexual orientation to an open debate about sexism, homophobia and racism following the trail of the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s.

The Black Unicorn compiles poems of multifaceted scope. The violence of daily life that affects young black men commingles with Lorde’s search for the key to unlock the secret of her gender, paying special attention to the role of females in the parental unit. A legendary world of ancestral Goddesses in the African tradition blends with urban scenes and the poetess’ individual experience, reminding the reader of the reality from where she gathers inspiration to denounce injustice and promote social change through her writing.
But not everything is social activism or myth in this collection. Lorde also addresses childhood, friendship or love as determinant aspects to the creative process.
An example would be the poem “Harriet” in which Lorde recreates a truncated friendship where she and her friend would seek refuge from a bigoted community and find release in speaking their fears out loud to each other:

“Harriet there was always somebody calling us crazy
or mean or stuck-up or evil or black
or black
and we were
nappy girls quick as cuttlefish
scurrying for cover
trying to speak trying to speak
trying to speak
the pain in each others mouths"

Nonetheless, childish dreams come to an end when both girls become adults and a vast void interposes between them. The celebratory illusion of self-acceptance is dissipated in the last verses of the poem:

“we dreamed the crossed swords
of warrior queens
while we avoided each other’s eyes
and we learned to know lonely
as the earth learns to know dead.”

Muteness has beaten communication. Social repression has manacled the imagination of the feminine mind. A recurrent motif in Lorde’s poems that denotes the lack of empathy between black women in the context of collective subjugation that leads to self-debasement and confusion about identity.

There is an uninhibited rawness in Lorde’s love poems. She eulogizes her sexuality and extracts inspiration from the curves of the female body, giving shape to the most voluptuous and stimulating stanzas. Images of passionate and hurried encounters amidst the lurking presence of violence, death and isolation reminded me of the Uruguayan poetess Idea Vilariño and her inclination to find relief in orgasmic consummation before an impending allegorical expiration occurs.
In Lorde’s poem “Recreation”, she recreates her being through the flesh of her lover. Two separate persons merge into a perfect unity and lovemaking becomes the conduit to Lorde’s poetic activity.

“you create me against your thighs
hilly with images
moving through our word countries
my body
writes into your flesh
the poem
you make of me.”

The same urgency, the same fluidity of the self dissolving with the other that includes the lover in the ensuing artistic creation is also noticeable in Vilariño’s poem “Si muriera esta noche”:

Original in Spanish

“If I died tonight
If I could die
if I died
if this fierce coition
fought without clemency
merciless embrace
kiss without truce
reached its peak and loosened
If right now
if now
my eyes rolled back in my head and I died”

There is the void of absence after sexual intercourse that soaks the interrupted verses, the lacking uniformity, the vertical rhythm and the syntactical and conceptual ambiguity in the poetry of both writers that make of their works a source of inventive power, an exercise of personal introspection, a direct glance to inner chaos and disorientation after melted bodies return to the loneliness of individuality.

“For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone”

Recites Lorde in her “Litany for survival”, transforming the despotic silence into mutinous language while laying the foundations for real action. Her poetry is more than rhetoric wordplay or aesthetic composition. It’s a social, personal and political protestation that is still highly topical at the present time. Lorde’s legacy will remain locked to the imperishable spirit of her works, which won’t ever stop “seeking a now that can breed

and keep shining on
in the night.

Note: Thank you Samadrita for having brought this collection to my attention.

Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
April 7, 2020
Lorde’s strongest poetry collection, marked by stark images, fiery language, and elliptical meaning. The contrast between the poet’s forthright tone and the many readings her layered poems invite makes for an arresting reading experience.
Profile Image for Hayley.
Author 2 books4,081 followers
May 7, 2023
I’m not a big poetry person, but Audre Lorde always got me
Profile Image for Leslie.
288 reviews111 followers
January 7, 2020
Audre Lorde was such a strong truth-teller and master of the craft of poetry. For me, her poems frankly pulsate with psychic power, love, feminine majesty, pain and cruel facts no one wants to know but must.

I happened to be reading this collection during the weeks when we learned that there would be no indictments for the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and Eric Garner in New York City. And while this collection of Lorde's poems was published in 1978, two of the 67 poems in this collection--- "The Same Death Over And Over or Lullabies Are For Children" and "Power" ---mourn the death of Clifford Glover, a ten-year-old black boy who was killed by a white police officer in South Jamaica Queens, New York in 1973.

excerpt from "Power" :

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
January 7, 2016
A few weeks ago I mentioned that one of my ambitions for 2016 was to read more poetry. A few days ago I found a couple of reviews over on GR which recommended Lorde's work.

I have no intention of writing much about my impressions of her poetry or try an interpretation based on the author's life and experience (as if I could). Some of the poems were more tangible than others, but I thought I'd offer up some examples:


It has rained for five days
the world is
a round puddle
of sunless water
where small islands
are only beginning
to cope
a young boy
in my garden
is bailing out water
from his flower patch
when I ask him why
he tells me
young seeds that have not seen
and drown easily.


Lacking what they want to see
makes my eyes hungry
and eyes can feel
only pain.

Once I lived behind thick walls
of glass
and my eyes belonged
to a different ethic
timidly rubbing the edges
of whatever turned them on.
Seeing usually
was a matter of what was
in front of my eyes
matching what was
behind my brain.
Now my eyes have become
a part of me exposed
quick risky and open
to all the same dangers.

I see much
better now
and my eyes hurt.
Profile Image for Olivia-Savannah .
717 reviews479 followers
August 23, 2017
It’s always hard to review a collection of poems, but this is something I want to do for the words of Lorde because it was an absolutely amazing read. In only two days I had raced through the collection – which says something because you can’t speed read through poetry. When you read a poem, after each and every one you need a moment of pause, of reflection and a gaining of understanding. The fact that this collection only took two days means I wanted to do nothing but immerse myself further in the words Lorde wrote.

I originally read this as a recommendation from my sister. A little bit about Lorde: I have learned that she was a black African-American who was born in New York but traveled around the world in her lifetime. She had sisters, was lesbian, a civil rights activist and also a feminist. Knowing how to be all those things in her time could not have been easy, and you can only come to imagine what level of strength this woman might have.

Her poetry was beautifully written because she uses various techniques that make the words what they are. I loved her use of repetition, especially in poems such as Sahara and Hanging Fire. She expertly uses the technique in the latter poem to build the eerie suspense and leaves an open end to the poem that has the reader hooked.

Alongside her clever use of metaphors, the imagery never becomes too vivid that it is impossible to determine the meaning of the poem. Sometimes the clue is in the title. Sometimes you just need to think a little and it’s within your reach. You come to learn that Lorde was someone who was immersed in current news and an array of her poems reflect events and situations which happened in her time.

Most of all, I loved the themes she chose to cover. There is a distinct number of poems which deal with the difficulties that came along with being coloured in the time of which she wrote this collection. And yes, some of those poems are still relevant for today. She also perfectly captures what it is to be a woman, and needing to stand strong and affirm yourself when being looked down upon. She brings fourth all the emotions, love and care that come along with it too. I think these two themes stood out most to me.

All I can say is, if you’re an appreciator of poetry or are looking into trying it, this is a collection I can’t recommend enough.

This review and others can be found on Olivia's Catastrophe: http://oliviascatastrophe.com/2017/06...
Profile Image for Ruxandra (4fără15).
239 reviews4,657 followers
May 6, 2022
brilliant & brutal, but also challenging. especially powerful were the poems based on real life court cases, in which Lorde channels all of her rage ignited by unjust & oppressive systems. this book even has a glossary (for the African names and gods referenced in the poems),as well as a bibliography right at the end :')


The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being
ready to kill
instead of your children.

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.

A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn't notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.

Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“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
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody's mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
Profile Image for Raul.
283 reviews203 followers
June 2, 2020
Her poetry is as brilliant as her prose. Some of these poems more than resonated today and were difficult and painful to read, especially Power about the ten year old Black boy Sean Bell who was killed by a racist police officer in 1973.
Profile Image for Maie panaga.
9 reviews72 followers
June 24, 2014
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

- Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn
Profile Image for Desirée Bela-Lobedde.
Author 10 books630 followers
March 23, 2023
La escritura cruda y punzante de Lorde siempre me deja sin palabras. Leer sus poemas ha sido genial.

Valoro mucho el hecho de que los poemas estén en inglés y español. Uno de los miedos que tenía era que los poemas estuviesen solo en español porque sabía que, por buena que fuese la traducción, me perdería cosas.

Nada. Que lo recomiendo mucho.
Profile Image for Sammy Mylan.
121 reviews3 followers
December 24, 2021
SO beautiful, obsessed with just how diverse her poetry is, with her writings on mother/child relationships, lesbianism and anti-blackness all being given equal weight, power and attention. everything she wrote is still so so relevant. my fave collection this year!!!

fave poems:

from the house of yemanjá


a litany for survival

a woman / dirge for wasted children
Profile Image for Becca Becca.
91 reviews119 followers
June 14, 2007
The poems in this book are absolutely beautiful. I recommend reading them at the same time that you read "Zami, a New Spelling of my Name." Audre Lorde has an amazing story to tell. Her poems have stayed with me for years.
Profile Image for bri (hobbitslibrary).
248 reviews595 followers
June 23, 2022
Audre Lorde submerges us at the crossroads of identity, guiding us forcibly to get up close and personal with the seams between her motherhood, daughterhood, womanhood, queerness, and blackness.

We witness a war and a reckoning and a rapture of self, taking us through Lorde's inner and outer journey of life sprinkled with mythological theology. Whether it be generational trauma, sex, or police brutality, Lorde strips her themes bare, leaving them (and herself) exposed and vulnerable, yet strong and resilient.

(As this is something incredibly personal, especially being from a Black perspective, I don't feel comfortable rating this so it will go unrated!)

CW/TW: racism, police brutality, sexual content (abstract), incest, CSA, homophobia (brief), blood, child death, parental abuse
Profile Image for Bri.
Author 1 book177 followers
April 13, 2022
I can’t believe this is my first time reading Lorde’s poetry. I can’t wait to read more. Several of these poems moved me and inspired/will continue to guide the direction of my own writing.
Favorites are A Litany for Survival, A Song for Many Movements, and Fog Report.
Profile Image for Bookish Bethany.
242 reviews24 followers
June 28, 2021
I love Audre Lorde anyway, poems like 'Sister Outsider', 'Ghost' and 'Fog Report' are beautifully named and emotionally poignant. The sparsity of the language speaks to the gaps in memory, the gaps created by those in her life that she has lost. Her poems feel real, the feel touched with experience - they deal a lot in suffering and love. Sometimes the poems stripped back into broken sentences felt too small to speak.
Profile Image for Kobi.
369 reviews22 followers
September 1, 2020
"Our skins are empty.
They have been vacated by the spirits
who are angered by our reluctance
to feed them."

I used up so many post-it flags while I read this. Audre Lorde is someone who I admire a lot, and there are so many incredible poems in this collection. I was hoping that I would enjoy it more overall, because I have so much love for Audre Lorde, but I definitely prefer her prose to her poetry. I think that the first half had more poems that I enjoyed, whereas the second half fell a little flat for me (though the ones I did enjoy in the second half I enjoyed a lot). There were also a few spelling mistakes I noticed in this edition which was jarring to read in poetry when you're trying to completely immerse yourself in the poet's words. But this is definitely a must read for any Lorde fan!
Profile Image for Bianca.
17 reviews23 followers
April 21, 2016
Loved, Loved, Loved these poems. It's rare that I read a book of poetry, but I read "For colored girls..." recently and I think they really compliment each other. I love its afrocentricity, and the almost mystical language she uses in many poems, especially at the beginning. So much revolves around the planets, the sun, the moon, Orisha, and magic and it still feels very real and down to earth. It's also SO relevant even today despite being written almost 40 years ago. There is a poem about a black child being killed by police that could easily be about Tamir Rice. Great read.
Profile Image for Amber .
334 reviews103 followers
December 31, 2022
My favorites from this collection (in no order):

Coniagui Women

The Women of Dan Dance with Swords in their Hands to Mark the Time when they were Warriors

A Litany for Survival

A Song for Many Movements



Profile Image for Anthro.Grafeas.
47 reviews11 followers
February 8, 2023
It's so refreshing reading some quality feminist poetry! This poetry collection by Audre Lorde feels like a calling to a Premordial Mother or to an African Premordial Female Figure. At the same time, Lorde puts everything down to find out the roots of humanness by creating astonishing symbolisms and strong imagery. Every line, every word is well-placed and took me by surprise!
Profile Image for Liz.
131 reviews1 follower
March 5, 2022
Finished, but I don’t feel qualified enough to rate poetry. I *am* glad I read it.
Profile Image for Iri.
123 reviews
January 21, 2022
Since I spent over a year and a half reading this one, I figure I should at least review it.

First of all, Audre Lorde is damn good at enjambment. She's so good at breaking a line in a way that it can be read in two ways: paired with the preceding line, or paired with the succeeding line. Like the fourth line in her poem "Harriet":

Harriet there was always somebody calling us crazy
or mean or stuck-up or evil or black
or black
and we were
nappy girls quick as cuttlefish
scurrying for cover
trying to speak trying to speak
trying to speak
the pain in each others mouths

Second of all, and I wasn't really expecting this, but her erotic poetry was beautiful. I don't consider myself a prude, but sometimes her verses had me blushing. Here's one of my favorites, from "Recreation":

Touching you I catch midnight
as moon fires set in my throat
I love you flesh into blossom
I made you
and take you made
into me.

and here's one from "Walking Our Boundaries:"

your hand
falls off the apple bark
like casual fire
along my back
my shoulders are dead leaves
waiting to be burned
to life.

But maybe the most beautiful thing about her poetry is that she is unwilling to look away, and unwilling to condemn. She wrote,

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being
ready to kill
instead of your children

and that's the price she pays, dying "too many deaths/ that were not [hers]" and still, somehow, returning again and again to the image of scars and a body healing.
Profile Image for Andrea Blythe.
Author 10 books73 followers
May 31, 2012
African folklore collides with the modern world in this provocative collection of poetry. Lorde explores darkness here, the beauty of black and the deep abyss of sorrow. A common style in these poems is to have one thought collide with the next, a line of text in the middle rubbing against both of the lines above and below it, so that it becomes torn between two different meanings.

Many of these poems are laced with anger and many lovingly paying homage to people either real and mythical. It's a beautiful and brutal collection that lingers, leaving one with a sense of uncertainty to the places they've just been.
Profile Image for sasha.
176 reviews2 followers
April 7, 2017
audre lorde is my lesbian mum and i love her poetry and choice of words and everything.
there are funny poems, honest ones, earnest ones, ones about lesbian sex, ones about death, she covers almost every topic possible and does it in a fantastic way. her poetry really touches me.
Profile Image for Sarah.
80 reviews18 followers
January 27, 2019
so good to revisit some of audre lorde’s poetry 🌹 some of my favourite poems ever are in this collection ❣️
Profile Image for Lars Meijer.
296 reviews27 followers
July 24, 2019
’I search through the index / of each new book / on magic / hoping to find some new spelling / of your name.’

Profile Image for bella.
56 reviews3 followers
July 9, 2021
Poems written lyrically with vivid imagery that is dripping with authenticity and intense vulnerability, Lorde raises important questions surrounding race, gender, sexuality and motherhood
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