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.