A Poem For Saturday

From Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn:

I’ve been reading The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 for weeks and am mesmerized by the beauty and power, the humor, complexity, and charge of her poems, often bringing to mind the work of another great, canny contemporary poet, the Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska.

Toni Morrison wrote the forward to the book, and I’ll quote some lines I treasure. “The love readers feel for Lucille Clifton – both the woman and her poetry – is constant and deeply felt….Her devoted fans speak often of how inspiring her poetry is – life-changing in some instances….I read her skill as that emanating from an astute, profound intellect.”

Just months before her death, Lucille Clifton learned that she had been awarded the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Art by the Poetry Society of America. At the awards ceremony that spring, the poet Cornelius Eady, standing beside Lucille’s beautiful daughters, accepted the award on her behalf, reading remarks she had composed for the occasion.

Two of my favorite short poems of hers can be described as self-portraits – one of spirit, the other of fidelity to poetry. The first is “We Do Not Know Very Much About Lucille’s Inner Life”:

from the light of her inner life
a company of citizens
watches lucille as she trembles
through the world.
she is a tired woman though
well meaning, they say.
when will she learn to listen to us?
lucille things are not what they seem.
all all is wonder and

The other is “the making of poems”:

the reason why I do it
though I fail and fail
in the giving of true names
is I am Adam and his mother
and these failures are my job.

We’ll feature her poems today and over the weekend.

“in the evenings” by Lucille Clifton:

i go through my rooms
like a witch watchman
mad as my mother was for
rattling knobs and
tapping glass. ah, lady,
i can see you now,
our personal nurse,
placing the iron
wrapped in rags
near our cold toes.
you are thawed places and
safe walls to me as I walk
the same sentry,
ironing the winters warm and
shaking locks in the night
like a ghost.

(From The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glasner with a foreward by Toni Morrison © 2012 by The Estate of Lucille Clifton. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.)