viSualizing the boDy oF the black atlantic
What did they do to your memory
That makes my quiet walk unknown to you.
—Cristina Cabral
Audre Lorde’s poem “Afterimages” takes the murder of Emmett Till and
its famous photographic representation as a key moment of black mem-
ory and makes the poem take the place of the photograph, creating a last-
ing image of history and engaging the power of the eye in the word, in the
body. “However the image enters,” the poem begins, “its force remains
within.”1 The speaker attempts to contain and release the tremendous
burden of black subjectivity when that subjectivity is tethered to sight.
To think of the afterimage in its plurality, in the collectivity of vision it
renders, is to engender a discourse of the visual in the service of violated
black bodies—both past and present. “My eyes are always hungry,” the
speaker continues, “and remembering.”2 Memory here measures the dis-
tance of “the length of gash across the dead boy’s loins / his grieving
mother’s lamentation / the severed lips, how many burns / his gouged
out eyes.”3 The import of collective visibility cannot be separated from
the gendered nature of the speaker’s witnessing. Her eye absorbs the im-
print of the event, and it haunts her, filling her eyes with images both
violent and lingering. Words drip from the poem, slowly paced but with
precision, and imbued with the range of racial violations set against black
people and over black flesh. Lorde’s racialized and gendered subjectivity
enters the frame and invests the image with a totality of vision. In this
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