Study Guide

Hanging Fire Quotes

By Audre Lorde

  • Coming of Age

    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 (1-9)

    The poem begins with the most coming-of-age-y problems ever: body problems. The speaker's face is pimply; her knees are dry. She's got an immature boyfriend (or maybe just a crush) who still sucks his thumb—typical teenager stuff. But then the speaker segues into much more serious territory: she wonders if she will die "before morning." Uh-oh. What's up with this girl? Is this concern about death normal, or should we be concerned about her?

    and momma's in the bedroom
    with the door closed. (10-11)

    These lines don't offer us any consolation about our speaker; in fact, they make us even more concerned. It sounds like this teen doesn't have a strong parental presence in her life to guide her. Our speaker seems isolated from her mom at a crucial time in her life.

    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 (12-18)

    Ah, here we return to the mundane problems of teenagers: learning how to dance and too-small bedrooms. But once again, the speaker quickly shifts to the subject of death. Is she sick? Does she live in a dangerous neighborhood? Why is the speaker so obsessed with death? And what is the "truth" that she is so nervous about? It's starting to sound to us like our speaker could use a good therapy sesh or two (or three or four).

    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 (26-31)

    And, we're back to typical teenager concerns: what to wear, the problems of braces, even some possible middle-school sexism in not being picked for the Math team. Sure, these problems can seem huge to a teenager, but these issues aren't exactly insurmountable.

    will I live long enough
    to grow up
    and momma's in the bedroom
    with the door closed. (32-35)

    Once again, our speaker returns to thoughts of death, and once again, her mom isn't there for her. Our speaker is isolated from her mom at a time when she really, really needs her. The speaker's adolescence is a lonely time, and—we're not gonna lie—when the poem ends, we're seriously worried about her.

  • Family

    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. (1-11)

    In this first stanza, the speaker expresses all kinds of fears. She's worried about dry knees and pimply skin, but she's also worried about death. (Uh-oh: what does a 14-year-old have to worry about death for?) The stanza ends with two lines that may give us a clue: her "momma's in the bedroom / with the door closed." Our speaker is isolated from her mom. No good can come of this.

    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. (12-23)

    The second stanza is similar to the first; the speaker complains a bit about typical teenager stuff, but then continues to express anxiety about death. And she repeats those worrisome final lines from the first stanza. Her mom's still in the bedroom with the door closed. The isolation that the speaker feels is starting to feel like it's permanent.

    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. (24-35)

    The last stanza is similar to the other two: once again, our speaker expresses adolescent fears along with morbid fears about death. By the time those last two lines repeat for the final time, we are super-concerned for our speaker. This teenager needs her momma, and stat. But it looks like her momma's not opening that door anytime soon. In "Hanging Fire," family is just another source of anxiety, not a source of comfort.

  • Death

    what if I die
    before morning (8-9)

    Until this moment, the speaker has been complaining about some pretty typical teenager stuff: pimples, boys—you know the drill. But here, some bigger picture worries creep in. What if she dies before morning, she wonders. Is this a healthy concern with death? (After all, it's gonna happen to all of us eventually.) Or is the speaker a little too concerned with mortality for our own comfort?

    suppose I die before graduation
    they will sing sad melodies
    but finally
    tell the truth about me (15-18)

    Apparently the speaker's mortality-related concerns aren't just a one-time deal. Here, she gets even more specific, and goes as far as wondering about the songs people will sing at her funeral. We're starting to worry for our speaker's mental health.

    will I live long enough
    to grow up
    and momma's in the bedroom
    with the door closed. (32-35)

    Our speaker's focus on her own mortality is just heartbreaking. We don't know why she's so worried about her own death. Is she sick? Is the apocalypse coming? Does she live in a bad part of town? All we can be sure of is that she has no one to talk to about her fears; her mom's "in the bedroom / with the door closed." The speaker has to deal with her mortality-related fears all alone, and that's maybe the scariest thing of all.