“one human voice”

who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be

beautiful         who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals

that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin
-from “sorrows” by Lucille Clifton

Our local orchestra got a new musical director this year, and this past Saturday, I saw him conduct for the first time. I really liked our old musical director, so I was ready to not love the new guy. He was completely charming in the pre-concert chat, though, and then after the orchestra played the first piece (Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s  Job), he took the microphone and said that he wants to connect what the RPO is doing to other arts going on in the area. Then he introduced someone from our local poetry press, BOA Editions, who read “sorrows” by Lucille Clifton.

Then the orchestra played Mahler’s  Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection” with a couple soloists and the Eastman-Rochester Chorus, and that piece just kind of knocked my high-heeled Mary Janes off. So I totally like the new guy.

But back to the poem. I don’t think I’d ever heard it before, but, like the Mahler piece, it forced me to be present. It’s Clifton’s strong language–“crackling hair,” “spice filled flesh,” “beseeching.” But it’s also this idea that sorrow can be beautiful, that love brings it to us, and then that final image of the narrator whispering “into my own/cupped hands.” It’s such a vulnerable moment, one we all know. Hearing it vividly reminded me of the night I first thought my late husband might have cancer, about two weeks before he was diagnosed. I’d just turned 23 and had been married not quite four years. It was December, and I thought this scary, scary thought in the middle of the night, and I went out in the back yard and leaned against the apartment building in the snow so I wouldn’t wake Brian with my sobbing and tried to think of anything, anything, ANYTHING else that could be making him sick.

Clifton ends by asking “who can distinguish/one human voice.” Sometimes it the artist who sees and hears and takes note.

And, jeepers, hearing that poem made me grateful for my present good life.

Poetry Friday’s at Random Noodling today.


  1. Posted October 28, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Oh, that’s simply lovely.

  2. momster
    Posted October 28, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I am grateful for your present good life too:-)

  3. Posted October 28, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Lovely, Adrienne.

  4. Posted October 28, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I, for one, am grateful for your “one human voice” today.

    That musical director sounds like a keeper. I hope he sees this. He kind of needs to know his choices are knocking high-heeled Mary Jane shoes off. Just saying.

  5. adrienne
    Posted October 28, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Thank you, all. The new director is also young for a conductor and has this wonderful shiny longish blond hair that flies all over the place when he conducts. The hair thing is both distracting and wonderful.

    Our old director was this British guy who had the most marvelous accent and would play the piano to illustrate points during his pre-concert chats, which I’ve been missing. He’s going to be guest conducting in the spring, though, so I’ll see him again then.

  6. Bri's Mom
    Posted October 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    You have a way with words Adrienne,and I am so glad that you have a good life now with many friends……..you deserve it!

  7. adrienne
    Posted October 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Linda. I appreciate that.

  8. Posted October 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I love this post, and I just fell for that poem, too.

  9. adrienne
    Posted October 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    The poem has been on my mind ever since I first heard it. It was kind of timely for me, little dose of perspective and all.

    Stinking perspective.

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