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.