Tag Archives: Lucille Clifton

Listen, Woman

I’ve never felt the desire to memorize a poem.  I haven’t memorized a piece since I was a freshman in high school, when I had to deliver a speech from Julius Caesar in English class.

Nor have I ever felt the urge to copy a poem, word for word, to see what makes it work.  I know writers often do this to get under a poem’s skin, to discover what makes it successful, and to study another poet’s style.  I’ve just preferred to spend my time struggling to write something of my own.  That’s difficult enough.

Then I heard Lucille Clifton read her poem, “What the Mirror Said”.  Here it is:

What the Mirror Said

by Lucille Clifton

listen,
you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.
listen,
somebody need a map
to understand you.
somebody need directions
to move around you.
listen,
woman,
you not a noplace
anonymous
girl;
mister with his hand on you
he got his hands on
some
damn
body!

When I heard it, I was in the car, listening to a recorded reading by Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks.  When Clifton introduced the poem, she said she wrote it to get herself through a day when she didn’t feel like leaving the house.  It just so happened I was having one of those days.  I was feeling a little down, a little lost.  When Clifton began reading the poem, I sat up straight.  And then I smiled and played it again.  I played that poem ten more times, until I was sitting in my driveway and had to turn off the car.  Later that night, I copied it down, word for word.  Just for the sheer pleasure of seeing it on the screen.  Even now, I have the urge to stand up in this dark kitchen and deliver it to the morning larks.  I adore this poem, and I don’t even wish I’d written it myself.  I’ve certainly felt that way about other poems.  But not this one.  This one is like a gift you would never give yourself.  It makes you feel special, even treasured.  This one is a present I’ll unwrap over and over again.  Today I’m tying it in a big red bow, and I’m offering it to you.  I hope it makes you sit up a little straighter and smile.