Clifton
by Clifton Snider

Growing up,
I hated my first name.
Who else was named Clifton?
It was a name apart, a name
for someone like me,
last-to-be-chosen
(football or baseball),
the boy who played violin,
an instrument girls excelled on,
a name confused with
“Clifford,” clumsy
with its double f’s,
a name I hated worse than my own.

In high school I worked
as bus boy at
Clifton’s Cafeteria,
a reason to like my name.
I’d whip out my
driver’s license to prove
to customers who I was.

I discovered Clifton Webb
in vintage movies on TV.
Perfect hair & mustache,
always proper, exquisite
suit & tie, a gentleman I assumed
was British with his eloquent
diction, covertly gay,
of course, as was I at the time,
a hero going down on the Titanic,
a comfort to his young son
he’d hitherto been estranged from,
down but not defeated —
a role model for a young queer
who did not yet own
his own exquisite self.

PHOTOS: (Left) Actor Clifton Webb, 1940s; (right) the author.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Clifton” was written expressly for the Silver Birch Press SAME NAME project. The prompt gave me an opportunity to reflect on why I had disliked my first name and how and why I came to embrace it. Much of that process came through my early identification with the characters Clifton Webb played on screen in a few movies I’d seen on TV. I suppose much of this was intuitive, and I make it explicit in the poem. The process of coming to terms with my name had much to do with my accepting myself for who I am. Clifton Webb helped in that process though, of course, it was far more complicated than just my identification with him as a fellow gay man.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clifton Snider is the internationally celebrated author of 10 books of poetry, including Moonman: New and Selected Poems, and four novels: Loud Whisper, Bare Roots, Wrestling with Angels: A Tale of Two Brothers, and The Plymouth Papers. He has published hundreds of poems, fiction, reviews, and scholarly articles utilizing Jungian and Queer Theories. He pioneered gay and lesbian literary studies at California State University, Long Beach. His work has been translated into Arabic, French, Russian, and Spanish.