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Lucille Clifton: A Mother’s Voice…

“…my girls

my girls

my almost me

my dearest girls

my more than me…”

There was always a girlish twinkle in her eye when she read her work at poetry readings. As though she were enjoying a secret that she may or may not be willing to reveal to her audience. I always envisioned her creative process; smiling to herself as her carefully considered and chosen words flowed from her brilliant, fertile mind to her pen and danced across the page.

And how she made them dance!

Her words gyrate, shimmy, strut, dip, pirouette and prance, forming poems that ultimately take shape, grab your soul, and leave you breathless.

This was Lucille Clifton. Her poetry created a new lexicon of self-definition, love, racial pride, and feminine ideology, speaking a language unlike any other. But what stands out for me personally in her work is her perception of her role as mother. I think of the mother she was, and of her six children. My deep appreciation of this aspect of her life actually grew over 25 years through my friendship with her daughter, Sidney. And having experienced this extraordinary family, it is obvious that Mrs. Clifton’s guiding principles and basic beliefs are firmly in place and beautifully reflected in her surviving children. It is a bond that began in infancy and surpasses any other relationship, as Mrs. Clifton so often expressed in her work.

It’s a known fact that infants display an accelerated heartbeat in response to their mother’s voice. Even before they are born. And life experience teaches us that that dialog continues for a lifetime, and beyond. But just imagine having been blessed to be the child of Lucille Clifton and all that that encompasses. To read your devoted mother’s words about her enduring love for her husband, your father, Fred, and “…the love that made you…” What an extraordinary legacy.

Raising girls who are growing up black and female in America requires a special kind of strength, which Mrs. Clifton possessed in abundance. In a culture in which girls coming of age constantly receive messages from outside forces about how they should look and feel and be, she, by example, imbued her girls with confidence and faith in their own worth and intellect, as well as an impenetrable armor against the inevitable challenges they would face in the outside world. And today, the result is beautifully reflected in the exceptional and successful women they’ve become, and in the echo of their mother’s voice.

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