glenisredmond
RSVPing to Lucille Clifton
by Glenis Redmond

               come celebrate
               with me that everyday
               something has tried to kill me
               and has failed.           Lucille Clifton

I got your invitation
& it was right on time.
Up off the couch I rise
from the doctor’s prognosis:
You won’t die from this, but you’ll
sure wish that you would have.
Pinched by pain, I pray for release.
You say, come celebrate with me.
I arrive late to the party,
with my poetry shoes on.
I sing loud and off key
full throated
with no apologies.­
With your invitation I take stock
of my non-white and woman passage.
You instructed me to make it up.
I do.
Follow your lead
between starshine and clay.
& every time they try to break me in Babylon,
I keep dancing my dreams
Shimmy the limbo while I stomp
on Fibromyalgia’s head
shouting to this killing life, you fail.

PHOTO: The author performing WC Ried Center, Asheville Youth Slam, 2012 (Credit: Micah Mackenzie).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In the early ’90s I watched Lucille Clifton read “won’t you celebrate with me” on Bill Moyer’s Language of Life on PBS. The moment was monumental. I memorized the poem and carried it everywhere. How the words worked on me psychologically, poetically, and spiritually — turned my gaze to my own familial and personal tapestry. While I embodied the poem at first, I realized many years later that the poem was also speaking to me craft-wise. This 14-line untitled poem is a sparse and intentional missive in which every syllable and word resonates:

               won’t you celebrate with me
               what i have shaped into
               a kind of life? i had no model.
               born in babylon
               both nonwhite and woman
               what did i see to be except myself?
               i made it up
               here on this bridge between
               starshine and clay,
               my one hand holding tight
               my other hand; come celebrate
               with me that everyday
               something has tried to kill me
               and has failed.

                                             The Book of Light, p.25

In the sixth line of the poem, the narrator calls out again to the void: “What could I see to be, but myself?” As she is devoid of role models and lack of positive mirrors that reflected by her race. She is faced with whether to assimilate or to create models. The speaker chooses to mythologize herself. She gave me permission to write my on Creation Myth, as well as reconfigure my life poetically. “RSVPing to Lucille Clifton” is my thank you to Lucille Clifton and her work that transformed me.

SOURCE: “won’t you celebrate with me” appears in Lucille Clifton‘s collection Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 1993), available at Amazon.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Glenis Redmond lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has traveled to all over the state and the country as a Road Poet with two posts as the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. This year she served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poets Program. She prepared student poets to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education, and for the First Lady, Michelle Obama at The White House. ¶ Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Glenis is also a full-time road poet, performing and teaching poetry across the country. She believes that poetry is a healer. She can be found across America in the trenches applying pressure to those in need, one poem at a time.