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Volume xviii, Issue 11 ~ March 18 - March 24, 2010

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One Woman’s History

Lucille Clifton Was a Truth Teller


by M.L. Faunce

I learned about Lucille Clifton like many things in life — too late.

The Lost Women

i need to know their names
those women i would have walked with
jauntily the way men go in groups
swinging their arms, and the ones
those sweating women whom i would have joined
after a hard game to chew the fat
what would we have called each other laughing
joking into our beer? where are my gangs,
my teams, my mislaid sisters?
all the women who could have known me,
where in the world are their names?

Serendipitously, I did come to know her, first through the obituary in The Washington Post after her death February 13. Lucille Clifton was a National Book Award winner in poetry for her collection Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems. She was Maryland’s poet laureate. She taught at St. Mary’s College in Maryland’s historic St. Mary’s City, where she was known as a truth teller.

The virtue of veracity is what I found when I turned to her poems. Her economical, spare words flooded the page with verse that left little to imagine about feelings held, things witnessed, thoughts turned over, wrongs not righted — all expressed with a verve and a voice that made it clear the sort of woman who had expressed them.

Homage to My Hips

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

Still, I hadn’t met Lucille Clifton, nor did I know about her impact on aspiring poets and just about anyone she met along the way. So I listened to the testimonials of students and fellow professors who knew her distinctive voice, had witnessed her humanity, felt the impact of this genuine article unwrapped, unshy about subjects like race and disappointment, adversity and strength, family and change, sorrow and loss, laughter and joy, history and yearning, the best and the worst of all us.

Good Times

my daddy has paid the rent
and the insurance man is gone
and the lights is back on
and my uncle brud has hit
for one dollar straight
and they is good times
good times
good times

my mama has made bread
and grampaw has come
and everybody is drunk
and dancing in the kitchen
and singing in the kitchen
of these is good times
good times
good times

oh children
think about the good times

Long-time contributor M.L. Faunce reminds us one more year that March is Women’s History month.

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