far memory

Lucille Clifton

 
a poem in seven parts
1   
convent
my knees recall the pockets
worn into the stone floor,
my hands, tracing against the wall
their original name, remember
the cold brush of brick, and the smell   
of the brick powdery and wet
and the light finding its way in
through the high bars.
and also the sisters singing
at matins, their sweet music
the voice of the universe at peace   
and the candles their light the light   
at the beginning of creation
and the wonderful simplicity of prayer   
smooth along the wooden beads   
and certainly attended.
2
someone inside me remembers
that my knees must be hidden away   
that my hair must be shorn
so that vanity will not test me
that my fingers are places of prayer
and are holy      that my body is promised   
to something more certain
than myself
3   
again
born in the year of war
on the day of perpetual help.
come from the house   
of stillness
through the soft gate   
of a silent mother.
come to a betraying father.
come to a husband who would one day   
rise and enter a holy house.
come to wrestle with you again,   
passion, old disobedient friend,   
through the secular days and nights   
of another life.
4
trying to understand this life
who did i fail, who
did i cease to protect
that i should wake each morning   
facing the cold north?
perhaps there is a cart   
somewhere in history
of children crying “sister   
save us” as she walks away.
the woman walks into my dreams   
dragging her old habit.
i turn from her, shivering,
to begin another afternoon
of rescue, rescue.
5   
sinnerman
horizontal one evening   
on the cold stone,
my cross burning into   
my breast, did i dream   
through my veil
of his fingers digging
and is this the dream   
again, him, collarless
over me, calling me back   
to the stones of this world   
and my own whispered   
hosanna?
6   
karma
the habit is heavy.   
you feel its weight
pulling around your ankles   
for a hundred years.
the broken vows
hang against your breasts,   
each bead a word
that beats you.
even now
to hear the words
defend
protect
goodbye
lost or
alone
is to be washed in sorrow.
and in this life
there is no retreat   
no sanctuary
no whole abiding   
sister.
7
gloria mundi
so knowing,
what is known?
that we carry our baggage   
in our cupped hands   
when we burst through   
the waters of our mother.   
that some are born
and some are brought
to the glory of this world.   
that it is more difficult   
than faith
to serve only one calling   
one commitment
one devotion
in one life.
 
Lucille Clifton, "far memory" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Poems by This Author

4/30/92 for rodney king by Lucille Clifton
so
blessing the boats by Lucille Clifton
may the tide
cutting greens by Lucille Clifton
curling them around
here rests by Lucille Clifton
my sister Josephine
homage to my hips by Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips.
it was a dream by Lucille Clifton
in which my greater self
jasper texas 1998 by Lucille Clifton
i am a man's head hunched in the road
miss rosie by Lucille Clifton
when I watch you
mulberry fields by Lucille Clifton
they thought the field was wasting
my dream about being white by Lucille Clifton
hey music and me only white
poem in praise of menstruation by Lucille Clifton
if there is a river
poem to my uterus by Lucille Clifton
you uterus
sisters by Lucille Clifton
me and you be sisters...
sorrows by Lucille Clifton
who would believe them winged
the earth is a living thing by Lucille Clifton
is a black shambling bear
the lost baby poem by Lucille Clifton
the time i dropped your almost body down
the lost women by Lucille Clifton
i need to know their names
to my last period by Lucille Clifton
well, girl, goodbye
wishes for sons by Lucille Clifton
i wish them cramps.
won't you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton
won't you celebrate with me


Further Reading

Poems about Living
"I'm afraid of death"
by Kathleen Ossip
A Toast
by Ilya Kaminsky
Another Elegy
by Jericho Brown
Ashes of Life
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
August, 1953
by David Wojahn
bonne chance de lycée
by Buck Downs
C'est La Guerre
by Danniel Schoonebeek
Characteristics of Life
by Camille T. Dungy
Corpse Flower, Luna Moth
by Daniel Tobin
Costumes Exchanging Glances
by Mary Jo Bang
Daily Life
by Susan Wood
Difficult Body
by Mark Wunderlich
Elegy in Joy [excerpt]
by Muriel Rukeyser
En Route
by Darcie Dennigan
First Things to Hand
by Robert Pinsky
Flowers of Rad
by Sampson Starkweather
Forth Into View, Random Warriors
by Pattiann Rogers
from Oracles for Youth
by Caroline Gilman
from Two Inch Fables
by Marilyn Chin
Frozen
by Natasha Head
How to Uproot a Tree
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
I could suffice for Him, I knew (643)
by Emily Dickinson
I Have a Rendezvous With Life
by Countee Cullen
I Know A Few Things
by Stuart Dischell
In a Landscape: IV
by John Gallaher
In Betweenness
by Pierre Joris
Insomnia
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Life
by Joe Brainard
Life is Fine
by Langston Hughes
Little Night Prayer
by Péter Kántor
Living in Numbers
by Claire Lee
Lost and Found
by Ron Padgett
Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]
by Denise Levertov
Meaning
by Carl Dennis
Meditation 29
by Philip Pain
Montparnasse
by Ernest Hemingway
My Teacup
by Alli Warren
On Disappearing
by Major Jackson
On Living
by Nazim Hikmet
On the Gallows Once
by Kofi Awoonor
One Train May Hide Another
by Kenneth Koch
Past Inclemency & Present Warmth
by Eryn Green
Poem Excluding Fiction
by Noah Falck
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Primitive State [excerpt]
by Anselm Berrigan
Roar Shack
by Alice Fulton
Samurai Song
by Robert Pinsky
Song for Future Books
by Joanna Fuhrman
Songs of a Girl
by Mary Carolyn Davies
Sonnet
by Bill Knott
Spent
by Mark Doty
sugar is smoking
by Jason Schneiderman
Summer in Winter in Summer
by Noah Eli Gordon
Tear It Down
by Jack Gilbert
The Clouded Morning
by Jones Very
The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz
The Life So Short...
by Eamon Grennan
The Old Stoic
by Emily Brontë
The Pain
by Laura Kasischke
The Secret
by Denise Levertov
This is My Life
by William Stanley Braithwaite
Thoughts
by Walt Whitman
Thrown as if Fierce & Wild
by Dean Young
Variation on a Theme
by W. S. Merwin
Virgil's Hand
by Francesc Parcerisas
What the Living Do
by Marie Howe
What Wild-Eyed Murderer
by Peter Meinke
What's Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street)
by Katrina Roberts
Where I Live
by Maxine Kumin
won't you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton
Yellow Beak
by Stephen Dobyns
[I'm not with my]
by Joshua Beckman