5. From The Book Of David: dancer

I have ruled

for forty years,

seven in hebron

thirty-three in Jerusalem


I have lain under the stars

and dreamed of foreign women.

I have dreamed my legs around them,



some nights,

holding them in the dream,

I would feel us

swallowed by the sky.


lately I have begun to bed

with virgins,

their round breasts warm

to an old man.


I hold my seed

still plentiful as stars.

it is not my time.


somewhere something is choosing.

I can feel it dancing in me,

something to do with

virgins and with stars.


I am grown old and full of days.

my thighs are trembling.

what will the world remember,

what matters to time,

I wonder,

the dancer or the dance?

–Lucille Clifton

3. A Term In Memphis: slaveships

loaded like spoons
into the belly of Jesus
where we lay for weeks for months
in the sweat and stink
of our own breathing
why do you not protect us
chained to the heart of the Angel
where the prayers we never tell
and hot and red
as our bloody ankles
can these be men
who vomit us out from ships
called Jesus    Angel    Grace of God
onto a heathen country
ever again
can this tongue speak
can these bones walk
Grace Of God
can this sin live

–Lucille Clifton


i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when a thumb of ice
stamped itself hard near my heart

you have your own story
you know about the fear the tears
the scar of disbelief

you know that the saddest lies
are the ones we tell ourselves
you know how dangerous it is

to be born with breats
you know how dangerous it is
to wear dark skin

i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when i woke into the winter
of a cold and mortal body

thin icicles hanging off
the one mad nipple weeping

have we not been good children
did we not inherit the earth

but you must know all about this
from your own shivering life

–Lucille Clifton

telling our stories

the fox came every evening to my door

asking for nothing. my fear

trapped me inside, hoping to dismiss her

but she sat till morning, waiting.

at dawn we would, each of us,

rise from our haunches, look through the glass

then walk away.

did she gather her village around her

and sing of the hairless moon face,

the trembling snout, the ignorant eyes?

child, I tell you now it was not

the animal blood I was hiding from,

it was the poet in her, the poet and

the terrible stories she could tell.

–Lucille Clifton


how it was    it was

as if all of the blood in my body


into my loin

so that even my fingers grew stiff

but cold

and the heat of my rod

was my only burning


desire my only fire

and whether

i loved her

i wanted her whatever she was

whether a curse

or the wife of Uriah

— Lucille Clifton