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Category archive for: Poems

mother tongue: babylon

our children will not remember a place

where the wind does not sleep at night like this,

at ease in the arms of trees.

they will know no waters

more lovely than these

where we, in our exile, weep.

though we are lovely,

we suffer from such loneliness,

the way even these moonlit waters would suffer

if only the blind stars looked on

night after night after night.

who could bear for long

the weight of such beauty as this?

from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010Find it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Hail

I was eleven the first time I saw it,

the November afternoon gone

heavy and gray. I’d begun

to doze when something—

not palm fronds rustling

nor monkey pods rattling,

but more like spoons against glass

or small bells—something began

clinking against the second story’s

blue palings and rails, lightly at first,

bringing all of us, even the teacher,

to our feet and out the door.

              Not since,

three years before, when the staticky

Standard Oil broadcast had been

interrupted by news that brought to tears

even Miss Engard (who didn’t tax

our imaginations too hard playing

the part of witch at Halloween)

had there been so much commotion.

Seeing our teachers openly weeping

had frightened us even more than a word

like assassination.

        Above us,

concrete. Under our feet, concrete.

And all of us stretching our hands

beyond the blue rails to catch,

as they fell, clear pieces of sky

that burned a second,

melting in our hands.

from PrecipitatesFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2003
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Messenger

Someone has been painting

NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

across the backs of bus benches,

blotting out the advertisements beneath

with green so the strong silver letters

appear clearly at corners,

in front of taco stands

and hardware stores.

Whoever did this

must have done it in the dark,

clanging paint cans block to block

or a couple of sprays—

they must have really

wanted to do it.

Among the many distasteful graffiti on earth

this line seems somehow honorable.

It wants to help us.

It could belong to anyone,

Latinas, Arabs, Jews,

priests, glue sniffers.

Mostly I wonder about

what happened or didn’t happen

in the painter’s life

to give her this line.

I don’t wonder about the person

who painted HIV under the STOPs

on the stop signs in the same way.

NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

Did some miracle startle

the painter into action

or is she waiting and hoping?

    Does she ride the bus with her face

    pressed to the window looking

    for her own message?

    Daily the long wind brushes YES

    through the trees.

from FuelFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1998
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

A Family Story

Like that mouse

who clung to the cabin wall

by its pale, delicate nails,

its shapely knuckles curved tight,

and then its tail flicking

side to side like a tongue over

its plump thumb of a body,

as if joining the argument,

clawing its way up, swaying

until, in the morning, the soft

collapsed body of the mouse,

stuck half in, half out of the wall,

as though he’d heard beckoning

noises from the field, as though

he’d tried to drive straight through

and batter his small way there.

from Walking the Dog’s ShadowFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

For Lower Nubia

There was a time in this very spot

before the dam was resurrected

before the now dead president flooded a culture

when everything was black and brown.

Nubia thrived by the grace of Horus

people styled tombs.

Villages moved with the pace of elders

temples changed by time of day

everything was black and brown.

Now beneath the glimmer of a beautiful lake

relics evaporate from the surface

masks reflect in the ripples

their images stretching to the shore

and the only color left is blue.

from Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of BoneFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2009
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

An American Story

one year

a naked white guy

parked his car

by our elementary school

kids called him

The Nude Dude and laughed

when they told the story

i didn’t believe it

because i was

on the honor roll

until the afternoon

he hopped at me

all pink and sweaty

and asked me

       little girl

have you ever seen

a white mans pride

and i replied oh

yes sir many times

many times

from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010Find it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Max Jacob’s Leather Coat and the Possibility of Grief

On the day the Gestapo came and took him away, the last three prose poems he was writing were left at the kitchen table along with his old leather coat that hung on the chair, until Jacob’s landlord entered the room and grabbed it. One can retrace the history of the coat and notice the silhouette of a man sitting at the kitchen table without the coat that accompanied him all over Paris. The last three poems he wrote in freedom were about the leather coat because the sheets were found two weeks later by the young woman who rented Jacob’s apartment. When she entered the kitchen for the first time, she picked up the pieces of paper, but did not know how to read, so she set the poems on the dirty table and went to inspect the other room. Max Jacob’s last three poems before he was taken away by the Nazis were finally read by the figure sitting at the table, alone and bent over, squinting at the tiny handwriting, his leather coat worn tightly on his shoulders.

from Beautiful WallFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2015
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Birthday Poem

My earliest memory is someone else’s.

A few years later, I eat all the yellow

flowers off the clover, the first of 1000

small secrets I’ll forget. The little boys

are my neighbors and I spend each

afternoon making us a home. Soon

my legs grow so long they are other

than myself. More parts follow,

scaffolding becomes necessary.

The marching band plays songs I know

by heart; I mean that I memorize all

the words. Each time I get on a plane,

I’m someone new, until I’m so good

I don’t need to fly to transform.

When my parents are suddenly

more tired than they’ve ever been,

I take over the farm, the spoonfeeding.

One minute I’m becoming

myself, the next I’m forgetting how.

from The Keys to the JailFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2014
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Parking Lot

I am looking for a spot that will retain no meaning, no charge. So I drive her to a dentist’s office—not my dentist, not hers—and in the parking lot I tell her it’s over, the whole thing. I tell her our relationship “is untenable.”
  We look out the windshield into the office, the rooms all fluorescent, those horrible, reclined chairs, and white, white everywhere.
  She tells me this just proves what she’s always thought, what she believes on “a very personal level,” that she’s “a character actor in her own life.”
  It’s a phrase she’s been savoring, I realize, and so accurate a description I’m surprised she hasn’t told me sooner, during a lull in one of our many restaurant dinners.
  But I would have lied and told her it wasn’t true, and she didn’t want to be unconvinced of it, her revelation.

                  (And what, asks the protagonist, is so

              bad about being a character actor?

                         Everyone steals from you.)

  Some security guy drives past us so I start the car up, relieved to have a reason.
  He’s got these scraggly whiskers that hang inches off his cheeks, and as he passes, he gives me a look.
  This is his spot, I think. We’re in his spot.

from Shame | ShameFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2015
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

blessing the boats

      (at St. Mary’s)

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

from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010Find it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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