Poem of the Week, by Lucille Clifton

Photo by Holly McGhee

Once, at a book conference overseas, the women at my table told me they felt sorry for American women like me, that I not only had to work so hard at my writing career but also at home, cleaning and cooking and doing laundry and taking care of my children, while they had cooks and drivers and housekeepers and nannies. I’ve thought about that conversation ever since. Thought about what it says about the systems of racism and sexism most of us struggle within. Thought about famous people and all the people behind them in the shadows, overlooked, overworked, underpaid. Every time I read the last line of this poem the entirety of our country’s history comes over me.

study the masters, by Lucille Clifton

like my aunt timmie.
it was her iron,
or one like hers,
that smoothed the sheets
the master poet slept on.
home or hotel, what matters is
he lay himself down on her handiwork
and dreamed. she dreamed too, words:
some cherokee, some masai and some
huge and particular as hope.
if you had heard her
chanting as she ironed
you would understand form and line
and discipline and order and

For more information about Lucille Clifton, please click here.

Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Lucille Clifton

IMG_E8618On the surface there’s little in common between Lucille Clifton and me besides the fact that we both grew up in far upstate New York (which, as all upstaters know, is in fact a deep and powerful bond). But ever since I read The Lost Baby Poem in my early twenties, a poem that filled me with so much sorrow and pain and understanding that it felt as if I were somehow embedded in it, she has been a kindred spirit.

She writes an homage to her big hips that makes me want to shake my skinny ones. She writes about her cancer diagnosis and my hands cover my breasts. She writes what did i see to be except myself and that, too, I feel in my bones. 



Won’t You Celebrate With Me, by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.


For more information about Lucille Clifton, please click here.
Twitter and Instagram: @alisonmcgheewriter 

Poem of the Week, by Lucille Clifton

It’s a city of sound, said the Painter, sound and color and light. We were in Havana for a week, soaking it up through the soles of our feet. Miles and miles a day we walked the streets of Habana Vieja, Habana Centro, Vedado. It was gorgeous in an unearthly way, and so were the people.
The Cuban men were beautiful, the Cuban women were beautiful, and the Cuban children were beautiful. Everywhere was the sound of music and talking, the frites woman calling her haunting song, laughter and shouting and the high clear tones of solo trumpeters practicing in the far corners of public parks. 
There was sadness and frustration too. Our friend, a star baseball pitcher in his youth, recruited by the Yankees —the Yanquis!– for their minor leagues: refused permission by his government to leave the country.
Our other friend who longed to study English abroad, and who could have, had she either the funds or any way to earn enough funds to buy a plane ticket out. Another who had managed, over many years, to save enough money to buy one of the 70-year-old classic American cars so beloved by the tourists, few of whom understand that the charming car represents life support for an entire extended family.
Another friend who had taught English for twelve years and was now a tour guide who, when I asked her which she preferred, hesitated and then said, “Honestly? Teaching. Teaching is my first love. But you cannot support a family on $25 CUCs a month, and the government knows it but pretends it doesn’t.”
We were there for a week, a week filled with poems and songs and stories. The poem below, by one of our greatest American poets, a woman who knew well the power of both womanhood and adversity, keeps coming to mind whenever I think of Habana.
homage to my hips, by Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top
For more information about Lucille Clifton, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by lucille clifton

The ongoing focus of my fabulous church for the non-churchy is racial justice, and the service this morning was particularly fabulous. We started out dancing in the pews to Pharrell Williams, we listened to the words of two of my favorite Nina Simone songs, we read a little Thoreau and Frederick Douglass and we all left laughing and full of energy. Halfway through the last song, some of my favorite lines from lucille clifton came ghosting into my head, including the last lines of this particular poem, so here you go.

The Lost Baby Poem
– lucille clifton

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car     we would have made the thin
walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers’ hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas    let black men call me a stranger
always     for your never named sake

– for more information on lucille clifton (she spelled her name lower case), please click here.

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