Study Guide

Hanging Fire Family

By Audre Lorde


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.

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