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Lucille Clifton

Currently distinguished professor of humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Lucille Clifton’s free verse lyrics often focus on race, gender, the importance of family and community in the face of economic oppression.

Born in Depew, N.Y. in 1936 to working class parents, Clifton attended Howard University at age 16.

Her books of poetry include “Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000” (BOA Editions, 2000), which won the National Book Award; “The Terrible Stories” (1995), which was nominated for the National Book Award; “The Book of Light” (1993); “Quilting: Poems 1987-1990” (1991); “Next: New Poems” (1987); “Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980” (1987), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; “Two-Headed Woman” (1980), also a Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize; “An Ordinary Woman” (1974); “Good News About the Earth” (1972); and “Good Times” (1969). She also has written “Generations: A Memoir” (1976) and 16 books for children.

Her achievements also include fellowships and honorary degrees from Fisk University, George Washington University, Trinity College and other institutions; two grants from the National Endowment of the Arts; and an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Transcript: Lucille Clifton

September’s Song, A Poem in Seven Days by Lucille Clifton

thunder and lightning and our world
is another place no day
will ever be the same no blood

they know this storm in otherwheres
israel ireland palestine
but God has blessed America
we sing

and God has blessed America
to learn that no one is exempt
the world is one all fear
is one all life all death
all one

2 Wednesday 9/12/01

this is not the time
i think
to note the terrorist
who threw the brick
into the mosque
this is not the time
to note
the ones who cursed
Gods other name
the ones who threatened
they would fill the streets
with arab children’s blood
and this is not the time
i think
to ask who is allowed to be
american America
all of us gathered under one flag
praying together safely
warmed by the single love
of the many tongued God

3 Thursday 9/13/01

the firemen
like jacob’s ladder
into the mouth of

4 Friday 9/14/01

some of us know
we have never felt safe

all of us americans

as some of us have wept

is it treason to remember

what have we done
to deserve such villainy

nothing we reassure ourselves

5 Saturday 9/15/01

i know a man who perished for his faith.
others called him infidel, chased him down
and beat him like a dog. after he died
the world was filled with miracles.
people forgot he was a jew and loved him.
who can know what is intended? who can understand
the gods?

6 Sunday Morning 9/16/01
for bailey

the st. marys river flows
as if nothing has happened

i watch it with my coffee
afraid and sad as are we all

so many ones to hate and i
cursed with long memory

cursed with the desire to understand
have never been good at hating

now this new granddaughter
born into a violent world

as if nothing has happened

and i am consumed with love
for all of it

the everydayness of bravery
of hate of fear of tragedy

of death and birth and hope
true as this river

and especially with love
bailey fredrica clifton goin

for you

7 Monday Sundown 9/17/01

Rosh Hashanah

i bear witness to no thing
more human than hate

i bear witness to no thing
more human than love

apples and honey
apples and honey

what is not lost
is paradise

Shapeshifter Poems by Lucille Clifton

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