OUR DEAD BEHIND US by Audre Lorde (Norton: $14.95; 75 pp.). This new collection of 43 fiery/tender poems--many of them brilliant--is from one who calls herself a bleak heroism of words / that refuse / to be buried alive / with the liars. Lorde has been praised for her moral courage by poet Adrienne Rich, who adds that she has become, for many, an "indispensable poet." She is engaging. And gutsy, right out there on the razor's edge of controversy, delicately balancing between despair/hope, dream/nightmare. In her initial poem, "Sisters in Arms," she brushes up searingly close to the tragedy that is South Africa:
The edge of our bed was a wide grid / where your 15-year-old daughter was hanging / gut-sprung on police wheels / a cablegram nailed to the wood . . . I could not return with you to bury the body . . . nor carry either of your souls back from the river / in a calabash upon my head.
Violence is to be answered with violence and will be. But, momentarily, a balance is regained, nightmare fades, softly she dreams of Durban sometimes / visions the deep wry song of beach pebbles / running after the sea. There is this hope/despair duality, too, in "Outlines," which touches upon lesbian love, and ends if we lose / someday women's blood will congeal / upon a dead planet / if we win / there is no telling.