Hanging Fire Poem by Audre Lorde Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


African American writer and poet Audre Lorde’s “Hanging Fire” is a sad poem. The poem is about a little girl who is afraid about her future. It demonstrates how she has a lot of questions and concerns in her thoughts that nobody, not even her mother, can relate to. For the accurate portrayal of a girl starting a new period of her life, the poet has received praise for the poem.

About the poet

Audre Lorde was a writer, feminist, academic, philosopher, and civil rights activist from the United States. She was a self-described “black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, mother, warrior, poet” who devoted her life and artistic skill to solving injustices involving racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her poetry and prose mostly explored black female identity and topics relating to civil rights, feminism, lesbianism, sickness, and disability.


Stanza 1

I am fourteen

and my skin has betrayed me   

the boy I cannot live without   

still sucks his thumb

in secret

how come my knees are

always so ashy

what if I die

before morning

and momma's in the bedroom   

with the door closed.

In the first paragraphs of “Hanging Fire,” the reader is introduced to a fourteen-year-old girl who is anxious. The first mentions how her “skin has betrayed” her, a familiar and clear allusion to pimples. The second is about the boy she “cannot live without” but who “sucks his thumb in secret” anyway. The fourth mentions her mother being in the “bedroom/with the door closed” and the third mentions her knees being dry or ashy. The verse ends with the refrain, which implies that many of her concerns would be alleviated if she could communicate with her mother.

Stanza 2

I have to learn how to dance   

in time for the next party   

my room is too small for me   

suppose I die before graduation   

they will sing sad melodies   

but finally

tell the truth about me

There is nothing I want to do   

and too much

that has to be done

and momma's in the bedroom   

with the door closed.

Although there is one extra line, bringing the total to twelve lines, the second stanza is organized identically to the first. There are more worries about it. These are presented in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, one after the other. Every time one comes to mind, she mentions it. Her “room is too small” and she’s had a party coming soon. What if she suggests, she passes away “before graduation”? As she mulls her own demise and the course her life has taken, her concerns grow increasingly complicated. She feels as though she wants to do nothing but all the things that need to be done. She has no one to talk to about it, which makes it more difficult for her to deal with everything. 

Stanza 3

Nobody even stops to think   

about my side of it

I should have been on Math Team   

my marks were better than his   

why do I have to be

the one

wearing braces

I have nothing to wear tomorrow   

will I live long enough

to grow up

and momma's in the bedroom   

with the door closed.

Nobody ever “stoeps to think / about my side of it,” the young speaker declares at the beginning of the third and final stanza of “Hanging Fire.” This short sentence has a lot of significance. She has the impression that the world is seeing her through or past her. No one ever considers asking her, whether it is a possibility or not. She feels out of control of her life and doesn’t want to be with someone who has “braces” and “nothing to wear”. The poem ends with the phrase “remaining for the last time” repeated and another illustration of this young person’s fear of passing away. She is uncertain as to whether she will live long enough to “grow up” and get rid of all these things (braces, ashy knees). She doesn’t want her current situation to define her entire life. She is unsure of what to do next or how to get there, though. Her mother ought to step in at this point, but she doesn’t.