Ms. Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936-February 13, 2010)


Photo Courtesy Marlene Hawthrone Thomas

My good friend, mentor, second mother, and Black Poetry Mother Ms. Lucille Clifton died yesterday. To say I am devastated is an understatement, but I did not want to do my grieving in public. I don’t want to chastise other folks who are doing their grieving in public, but that’s not my way.

Then I realized that, if I just disappeared without saying anything for a week or two or even three, no one would understand except for my close friends. So, on this Valentine’s Day—which will never be the same again—I am posting about her.

This will be my last blog post for a few days. I hope you will forgive my absence and understand.

I guess I should say this:

It’s a soul deep, heart deep thing that I had for Miss Lucille. I’m not saying other people didn’t have it. But I’m just saying, whatever I feel, it’s mine, and I just can’t talk about it right now in minute detail, giving a blow by blow every ten minutes.

The only thing I can do is post a poem for her, and hope this is okay, because this is what poets do when someone goes. We poem about it.

I kept promising Miss Lucille that I would send her some of my Phillis Wheatley poems, but I never did. I kept telling her, “I want them to be perfect, Miss Lucille, before I send them to you.”

I hope she can read this, wherever she is. I hope she knows things ain’t never gone be the same here without her. I was thinking I had just a little more time to get myself together before she left us, but I didn’t. I never thought I could ever fill her shoes, but I guess I thought I would learn how to be a black poet in the world, how to be a human being, before the elders started leaving us.

I hope she knows how much I loved her and still do.

I love you, Miss Lucille. Honi loves you, so much, and always will.

Coda (She-Who-Gave-Birth-To-The-Poet, 1773)*

PHILLIS was brought  from Africa to America

a small creature spinning in the Year 1761

my hands reaching between seven and eight Years of Age

without any Assistance woman but still my child

from School Education and by only what she was taught

in the Family and don’t forget me or this piece of land

come here oh come back the English language

to which she was an utter Stranger my sweet girl

please don’t leave this stilled playground child child child

to the great Astonishment of all who heard her

touch my reaching hands This Relation is given

by her Master who bought her JOHN WHEATLEY Boston

walk to my side gentle sweet seed Ma is calling

stay by me

Italicized portions of this poem are from the front matter of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (London: Archibald Bell, 1773).

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