Cancer and Lucille Clifton's Poetry
Sometimes knowledge of someone’s life can be taught by stanzas. It is not always simple being honest and open to discuss past troubles, but it is important that those negative thoughts do not stay bottled inside you. Expressing these feelings can help aid in recovering. Lucille Clifton uses poetry as her therapy to bring out all the shadows in her life. From the beginning of her career with the publishing of Good News About the Earth in 1972 to the most recent addition, Mercy in 2004, we see how Clifton relies on her writing to capture her past. Lucille Clifton’s poetry traces the life of a strong woman imprisoned by loss and disease, but ...view middle of the document...
The speaker says “you would have been born into winter/ in the year of the disconnected gas/ and no car” (ll. 7-9). The speaker does not see it fit to bring a child into an impoverished environment when they deserved much better. She could either abort the child, or “watch you slip like ice into strangers hands” (l. 11). She could not bear the thought of giving her life to someone it did not belong to, but instead must live with the haunting “time I dropped your almost body down/ down to meet the waters under the city/ and run one with the sewage to the sea” (ll. 1-3). She was able to remove the physical embodiment of her baby, but memories flood her like “waters rushing back” and they will forever leave her with the regret of losing that child.
Loss is prevalent in many other poems included in this publication. In “Apology (to the panthers),” Clifton talks about a different kind of loss: a loss of racial identity. The speaker makes an apology to her black heritage for forgetting the struggle of their minority during times of slavery and before the Civil Rights Movement. The poem ends by stating “brothers i thank you/ i praise you/ i grieve my whiteful ways” (ll. 13-15). The use of the word “whiteful” has been suggested to be synonymous with “’awful’” and also “’white fool” (Holladay). There is definitely a negative connotation of “whiteful” within the context of the poem, but I do not think Clifton meant for such an extremely distasteful analysis. The speaker’s move to “whiteful” ways is grieved because her black heritage has been neglected, not because she dislikes the ways of the whites.
Also around this time Lucille has to deal with the loss of her father who died in 1969. The poem “Daddy” tells of a brave, confident father that passes away, but teaches her that life will go on. The speaker has recognition of the death of her father, but does not let it rock her life. It is only those that you are closest to that make you feel that you may not be able to go forward. There is no evidence that the speaker truly feels for the subject, just a feeling that life will go on as usual.
The loss in Clifton’s life has been present since her childhood. In an untitled poem identified as “later i’ll say” brings up the losses that are discussed in the above-mentioned poems including “not [being] black enough” and “for unborn babies/ and dead trees” (l. 7, ll. 11-12). In Holladay’s Wild Blessings, she suggests that in regards to the aborted child, “ if there is [any] regret in this poem, it is regret tinged by a weary recognition that the child, had it lived, would have had a difficult start in life” (71). This last poem shows that this remark is false. If there was a lack in regret then Clifton would not be continually surfacing the subject. The speaker is well aware of her losses and recognizes that she will have to defend her past and consequently live with the burden of regret.
Clifton questions this...