Another of my favorite contemporary poets is Lucille Clifton. During my college courses, she was almost always referred to as an African American woman poet or a prominent black poet. And while this may be true of the demographic of whatever race she identified with, I never liked to think of people in terms of race, or religion, or nationality (or any other subgroup)....particularly of poets and writers, artists and musicians. I believe the gift of these creative endeavors breeches us all, the complete human race, in a certain prolific commonality. We are creators, writers, we share the gift of our scribe, our memory, our experience. Sharing such a personal thing as a poem is like reading a private journal page aloud to a group of strangers...at least it is for me. It demands bravery, no matter what group we identify with or where our origins began.
I think of Lucille Clifton as an amazing scribe. Her work is timeless, strong, brash and brave. She has been interested in all of America's historic victims, including both Blacks and Native Americans, and has been consistently eloquent about the special character of women's lives (Anthology of Modern American Poetry, 2000).
I have heard it said before that we are all a product of our past. This poem both represents, yet challenges that idea.
I Am Accused of Tending to the Past
by Lucille Clifton
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 language everyday.
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.