Tuesday, 15 June 2021

American Life in Poetry: 5/23/67 R.I.P.

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

I have a memory of Lucille Clifton responding to a young poet who asked her how she managed to be a productive publishing poet despite having to raise six children, by saying, “I wrote shorter poems.”

Of Clifton’s many brilliant truths, this stays with me. And this pithy elegy, “5/23/67 R.I.P.”, selected by Aracelis Girmay in a remarkable new gathering of Clifton’s poetry, would have been written when her children were young, and when America was burning with uprisings, and when Langston Hughes died.

She accepted the heavy mandate passed on to her by Langston Hughes, to “remember now like/ it was,” and we are the better for it.

5/23/67
R.I.P.

By Lucille Clifton

The house that is on fire
pieces all across the sky
make the moon look like
a yellow man in a veil

watching the troubled people
running and crying
Oh who gone remember now like
it was,
Langston gone.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Lucille Clifton, "5/23/67 R.I.P." from How to Carry Water; Selected Poems of Lucille Clifton, (BOA, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Permissions Company, LLC and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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