Study Guide

Hanging Fire Coming of Age

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.

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