Speaking of women who changed my life

This post was originally published on Peachleaves

When I was in 7th grade, I won a prize in the final round of this citywide writing competition in Memphis called Wordsmith.  (Actually, I did this a few other years as well–I  had nothing better to do, really–but this particular time was formative.)  The contest organizers held a banquet for the winners, and invited Lucille Clifton (who was a visiting lecturer at U of M that spring) to speak.

She was warm and wonderful.  She had a melodic voice, and read us her work-in-progress (a children’s story) like music, or a choral poem.  She told us that she couldn’t imagine doing the kind of writing we’d accomplished (timed writing of different lengths and purposes) at our age.  I felt incredibly adult and inspired.
My mother bought every book of Clifton’s that she could find, and one of these, The Book of Light, is a book that Travels With Me Everywhere, from Rhodes to New Orleans to Philadelphia and even, I think, to the odd summer program in between.

Reader, this woman is speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia tomorrow night, and I am busy.

In her honor, I will post two poems that I love and that I hope will encourage other locals to go experience her humor and poise.  Consider reading these out loud for the best effect.  The first I chose because it is hilarious; the second is like the personification of that little piece of id that howls at me from time to time.  I hear the final line echo in my head whenever I am darkening my light.

wishes for sons

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
I wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn’t believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

it was a dream

in which my greater self
rose up before me
accusing me of my life
with her extra finger
whirling in a gyre of rage
at what my days had come to.

i pleaded with her, could i do,
oh what could i have done?
and she twisted her wild hair
and sparked her wild eyes
and screamed as long as
i could hear her

This. This. This.


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