Lucille Clifton: I am accused of tending to the past

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Originally Thelma Lucille Sayles later Lucille Clifton was born June 27, 1936, in Depew, New York although she moved to Buffalo, New York with her family early on in her life. Clifton showed her intelligence even at an early age and graduated high school at only sixteen. She then went on to win a scholarship to Howard University in Washington D.C. although she transferred to Fredonia State Teachers College. During Clifton's college experience she met some of the people that influenced her life, and writing the most. At Howard, Clifton was exposed to the dramatist and poet Amiri Bakara, also know as LeRoi Jones and another poet, Sterling Brown. Its when Clifton was attending Fredonia State Teachers College that she was experimenting and exploring poetry, drama, and other various things that went on to shape her writing. Also at Fredonia Clifton met her future husband Fred Clifton who at the time held a position as a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo. Clifton had six children to Fred. The couple was happily married until 1984 when Fred passed away. While Clifton was attending Fredonia she had her big break when Robert Hayden another (better known at the time) African American artist found her works worthy of the YW-YMCA Poetry Center Discovery Award. Not only was this an honor but it lead to Clifton’s publication of her first poetry collection, Good Times (1969).

Luckily Clifton's début into the literary scene was a major success. Good Times was claimed to be one of the best books of the year by the New York Times. After this major breakthrough Clifton went on to use the teaching skills she had learned at Fredonia and held positions at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1974 to 1979, professor of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, from 1985 to 1989, Distinguished Professor of Literature and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College, Maryland, from 1989 to 1991, and professor of creative writing at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, beginning in 1998, Not to mention she served as the Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. Clifton is one of the most accomplished women in the literary world. Owner of Pulitzer Prize nominations for poetry in 1980, 1987, and 1991, the Lannan Literary Award for poetry in 1997, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1997, the Los Angeles Times Poetry Award in 1997, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Award in 1999, and the National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 (2000) also a National Book Award nomination for The Terrible Stories (1996). Not only that but she has been awarded honorary degrees from Colby College, the University of Maryland, Towson State University, Washington College, and Albright College. Lucille Clifton’s work shows true passion for the things of everyday and she was rightfully recognized for her talents.

Lucille Clifton died in Baltimore, MD in 2010.



I am accused of tending to the past

i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my 
mother's itch
took it to breast
and named it
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will. 




the legend is whispered
in the women's tent
how the moon when she rises
follows some men into themselves
and changes them there
the season is short
but dreadful shapeshifters
they wear strange hands
they walk through the houses
at night their daughters
do not know them


who is there to protect her
from the hands of the father
not the windows which see and
say nothing not the moon
that awful eye not the woman
she will become with her
scarred tongue who who who the owl
laments into the evening who
will protect her this prettylittlegirl


if the little girl lies
still enough
shut enough
hard enough
shapeshifter may not
walk tonight
the full moon may not
find him here
the hair on him


the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow the one
she cannot tell the one
there is no one to hear this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world 

Credit: Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton