“1994” by Lucille Clifton

The-Terrible-Stories-I’ve been feeling rather blah and achy for the past couple of days and also yearning for some poetry.  When this happens, I tend to want to read from a favorite poet.  So I looked up Cavafy, then my favorite Poles, then touched on Walcott, some Hemphill and so on; it’s been a journey of something.  I settled on a Lucille Clifton first-person monologue.

The poem “1994” is included in Clifton’s the terrible stories, a collection she published after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She went into remission but unfortunately, the cancer (the bastard!) recurred. Clifton died in 2010 after a long battle with the disease.

I want to say a lot more about this poem, about this poet whose work is essential for me, but words fail. So, here is the poem:


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 fears 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 breasts
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

– by Lucille Clifton

More poems by Lucille Clifton at Kinna Reads:


  1. Thank you. I am not a poetry person, but the poems you post always touch me very deeply and give me hints of how perfectly poetry can express what I cannot. Do keep giving us gems like this.


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