One Human Voice

You might as well answer the door child, the truth, is furiously knocking.

Lucille Clifton

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!

Lucille Clifton Reading Homage To Hips

sorrows 

by Lucille Clifton

who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be
 
beautiful         who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals
 
that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin
 
 
sometimes we hear them in our dreams
rattling their skulls         clicking their bony fingers
 
envying our crackling hair
our spice filled flesh
 
 
they have heard me beseeching
as I whispered into my own
 
cupped hands       enough not me again
enough       but who can distinguish
 
one human voice   
amid such choruses of desire

Sail Through This To That

Lucille Clifton (1936 – 2010)

I don’t write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me; they are about questions.

Lucille Clifton

Blessing the Boats

by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your
innocence
sail through this to that

Lucille Clifton had the gift of sparse words imparting vast meaning.   Her poetry is straightforward yet complex.   Discovered by Langston Hughes through a mutual friend in New York, she succeeded on the strength of her talent and bright spirit.  Clifton was an educator, children’s book author, poet, engaging speaker and civil rights leader.  Clifton advanced ideas of equity through her art and educational leadership.  

There is a motherly savviness to some of Clifton’s poetry that reassures me, good naturedly cajoles, lulls me into surprises and insight, while letting me wander about breezily in her words.  I marvel at her imagery and her welcoming, supportive spirit.   

Blessing The Boats, the title of her award winning anthology, is a remarkable poem in that it has no moorings of where you feel required as a reader to start or stop.   I can chose to see it as a loop that I can plug into almost anywhere. 

Sometimes I like to read a poem backwards.  Not all poets work lend themselves to this, but it can be an interesting technique to enter a poem and the poets ideas in a different way.   By reading it in reverse sequence, it allows me to focus on individual lines and not worry about trying to understand the whole of poem. Try reading Clifton’s Blessing the Boats from the bottom to the top, and see what rises on your internal wavelengths.  What line sticks out in your mind?  Is it a different line than you noticed the first time reading it through? 



“Oh Antic God”

by Lucille Clifton

oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.
 
I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.
 
I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night.   return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.

What Have I Shaped Into

Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton (1936 – 2010)

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.

The idea of celebrating, a celebration of our lives every day is a hard thing to achieve.  There are too many things that rub at us, over due bills, nagging coughs, unpleasant tasks required of us at work or home, down right unpleasantness like having surgery or a tooth removed, not to mention deaths of loved ones and deaths of relationships, sap our energy for celebrations.  Loss and grief encroach on our sense of well being and the idea of celebration, of thinking of this very day as special fades into the background of grumbles, aches and pains and we forget that life is good.

Poetry as a meditative practice to reset my brain with positive images and thoughts is something I try to do daily as a way to remember to celebrate. I admit that part of my penchant for seeking out short poems, is I tire easily from longer poems if they fail to grab my interest early, in the first 10 lines. There is something pleasing about short poems, they feel contained, readable, a message waiting just for me, whereas long poems, short stories and novels feel much more impersonal.

Clifton asks an interesting question?  Do any of us have a model or is the challenges she faced unique? Certainly I benefited by being white and male in looking about at the world in seeing options of what I could be and can be, but in the end the path I took was very much individual. I appreciate the challenges she articulates even if I can never completely understand them.  I am not a woman, nor a person of color.  I never faced institutionalized racism.  Her path was much more challenging and filled with more barriers.  It’s why her poems are inspirational.  I think I can take something from her poetry and remember to celebrate and celebrate with her.  Celebrate what I have shaped into some kind of life.  How do you remember to celebrate?


a song of mary

by Lucille Clifton

somewhere it being yesterday.
i a maiden in my mother’s house.

the animals silent outside.
is morning.
princes sitting on thrones in the east
studying the incomprehensible heavens.
joseph carving a table somewhere
in another place.
i watching my mother.
i smiling an ordinary smile.

from Two-Headed Woman (1980)