Poetry: ‘For Lucille Clifton’ by Joseph Ross

04_Lucille_Clifton_(5)I had coffee this morning with my friend Joseph Ross. We were discussing attending poet Lucille Clifton’s memorial service in April and he said he’d written a poem for her.

When Clifton won the prestigious Ruth Lily Poetry Prize in 2007, the judges remarked that “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.”

Speaking to Michael S. Glaser during an interview in 2000 for the Antioch Review, Clifton reflected that she continued to write, because “writing is a way of continuing to hope … perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” How would Clifton like to be remembered? Glaser asked. “I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help.”

Read Joe’s stunning tribute to one of our great American poets below.

For Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

She insisted on breathing in
the defiant air
of her own survival.

She sailed through waters
more angry than blue,
waters that swirled

with the probing hands of others,
touching places where
only words belonged.

She found a vision
that saw through sadness
and a voice for calling out

to every waiting fear.
Her vision and voice
lifted her from the humid street

into canyons of night sky
to teach her the given name
of each anonymous anger.

And still, she washes us
in a sacred spray of stars,
making us holy.

And still, she sails,
carrying us in the carved-out
canoe of her womb,

whispering to us
the final message:
that we too can breathe

and be both
the blessing and the boat.

–by Joseph Ross

Read my earlier post about Lucille Clifton.

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