Monday, April 12, 2010

Driving Lucille Clifton

2000 Dodge Poetry Festival (Carter Douglass, Ernie Wormwood, Kathy Glaser, Lucille Clifton, Lara Payne, Jeanne Vote)

Lucille receiving the National Book Award 2000

My friend Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010. I met her at a Literary Festival at St. Mary's College fifteen years ago. Lucille did not drive. I asked her about it once and she just said she couldn't drive.

In 1999 I started driving her here and there, often to Columbia from St. Mary's, or to the airport, or picking her up from the airport. I also drove to and from Squaw Valley, California with her several times, as she was a mainstay of the poetry conference there and I went as a a participant three times. We also took the train to New York and flew to gigs she had. Whether in the car, on the train, or plane, or sipping coffee in the morning after something, we were easy friends who laughed much. We talked like girls about all the stuff girls talk about. Lucille was a child in her sense of wonder and awe, but she was a giant on stage. Often at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo (she was there for all but one--I started going in 1998), I would stand outside the big tent and listen to her voice being broadcast outdoors and say to passersby, "Isn't this like hearing the voice of God?."

She had about everything you could have happen to you happen in her life. She endured and went on until February 13, 2010. When I learned she had died, I took out all her books, all the mementos, all the journals I had written in about our adventures and the poem below came to help me endure.

I read this poem and said some of these things at the Memorial for her on April 10, 2010 at St. Mary's College.


How you held me up like a bridge
through the deaths of father and brother
How we talked of thinking
about sex all the time, no hips, no lips
ever said more
How we mourned Roland, Stanley, Sekou
and wondered at missing someone differently
when he goes somewhere else

Sex, death, poetry.

You said your mother kept death away.
Light, how will you fill the canyon you
have darkened?

To bring you, I read the inscriptions in
your books, Dear Ernie, Dear Ernie,
Dear Ernie, the handwritten Lucilles
and then the clippings, notes, photos
and the date your mother left the hole in you,
February 13, 1959 and then

comes the light of Lucille Clifton
called by her mother February 13, 2010
at the right time
at the good time.

© 2010 Ernie Wormwood


Anonymous said...

This was such a beautiful heartfelt post, a great tribute to Lucille Clifton.
Thank you for sharing with us.

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend!

teabird said...

Thank you for sharing your memories and connection with Lucille Clifton - filling the canyon with light is such a perfect metaphor.

Serena said...

Beautiful tribute to a good friend, whom will be missed by all in the poetry community. Lucille was definitely a force.

Thanks so much for being part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour. Please be sure to add your link to Mr. Linky on my Welcome post and to email your link to Susan at winabook.

Valerie said...

I love Lucille Clifton's poetry and have featured it a few times on my blog. How fortunate you were to know her in person.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

What a moving tribute, Ernie. Thanks for sending me this link and for joining in National Poetry Month. It makes my contribution feel insignificant.

Janet Grace Riehl said...


what a joy for you to have had this everyday connection to such a good and great soul. To be able to drive or cook for such a person provides a powerful connection.

There's reciprocity. You supported her and added to her life just as she added to yours.

Here's the link for your poem on Riehlife, "Small Machine,"

Janet Riehl

ewormwood said...

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments.


OnlinePublicist said...

I applaud your sharing this post with us. You did a beautiful job honoring your friend and helping her memory live on.

Ernie Wormwood said...

Thank you so much.

Tameka said...

Dear ms. Wormwood,

When I heard that Ms. Lucille Clifton had gone away from us, here, I wept bitterly, as if a close relative had gone. It felt like a sharp, cold knife had ripped into me someplace, and I was so sad. My husband held me as I cried into him, and I wanted you to know that reading your poem, "Light," offered a warmth similar to his strong arms and loving words. I could feel Ms. Clifton in your words. There will never be another her, but your tribute to her is another breath of living all its own. Many blessings.

ewormwood said...

I am so glad the poem helped you, Tameka. Thank you for your thoughtful, poignant comments.

ewormwood said...

I am so glad the poem helped you, Tameka. Thank you for your thoughtful, poignant comments.