03 March 2010

Voices and Soul

2 March 2010

Justice Putnam
Black Kos, Tuesday's Chile Contributing Poetry Editor

I was saddened to hear of the death of the great poet, Lucille Clifton in last week's Tuesday's Chile. I have featured her work in this series earlier; but two poems that exemplify Clifton's Poetics are found in the following.

The first is her childhood memory of bigotry and how a mother's joy conquers all. The second is what set Clifton on her own path to poetry; her mother had written poems secretly and was offered a collection of such to be published. Clifton's abusive father forbid it. Clifton chronicles her mother's reaction and her own resolve to honor her.

ask me to tell how it feels
remembering your mother's face
turned to water under the white words
of the man at the shoe store. ask me,
though she tells it better than i do,
not because of her charm
but because it never happened
she says,
no bully salesman swaggering,
no rage, no shame, none of it
ever happened.
i only remember buying you
your first grown up shoes
she smiles. ask me
how it feels.


(for mama)

remember this.
she is standing by
the furnace.
the coals
glisten like rubies.
her hand is crying.
her hand is clutching
a sheaf of papers.
she gives them up.
they burn
jewels into jewels.
her eyes are animals.
each shank of her hair
is a serpent's obedient
she will never recover.
remember. there is nothing
you will not bear
for this woman's sake.

-- Lucille Clifton

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