Two Poems by Lucille Clifton

if i should
to Clark Kent

enter the darkest room
in my house and speak
with my own voice, at last,
about its awful furniture,
pulling apart the covering
over the dusty bodies: the randy
father, the husband holding ice
in his hand like a blessing,
the mother bleeding into herself
and the small imploding girl,
i say if i should walk into
that web, who will come flying
after me, leaping tall buildings?

from The Book of Light (1993)

a song of mary

somewhere it being yesterday.
i a maiden in my mother’s house.
the animals silent outside.
is morning.
princes sitting on thrones in the east
studying the incomprehensible heavens.
joseph carving a table somewhere
in another place.
i watching my mother.
i smiling an ordinary smile.

from Two-Headed Woman (1980)


Meredith Martin Writes:

Lucille Clifton is one of those poets who blew my mind when I was first reading poems as a young woman. My mentor at the time, poet Paulann Petersen, gave me Good Woman, a collection of her earlier books and a memoir. I had never read any voice like this, and it was a voice, in a way that I’ve since trained myself to think against. Her “homage” poems (“to my hips” especially) carried fierce feminist salvos — and humor. Hers was a world of sisters and mothers and women who had to make it on their own in a man’s world. Re-telling biblical tales alongside tales of “ordinary” women, I learned that the ordinary and extraordinary were almost always intertwined. She’s more interested in Clark Kent than Superman, and her Mary is a regular woman with some intense dreams. Her “two-headed woman” has “one face turned outward / one face / swiveling slowly in.” I see these poems as those two sides: the first giving us a sense of what happens when the gaze is fixed inward and the second teaching us something new, something ordinary, through a differently imagined perspective.