Ta-Nehisi has given me the honor of blogging for him again, and by way of introduction I'm going to tell you folks about a woman that changed my life in ways that words couldn't really measure. Who am I? Reginald Dwayne Betts. Husband, father of a little boy, poet, expert spades player (best on the East coast by some accounts) expert ish talker, etc. Who am I? Forever indebted to Ms. Lucille Clifton, and regretful that far too often the women we love pass and maybe, don't get to hear how they've changed, shaped, contributed to who we are.
I met Lucille Clifton in 2006. I'd been out of prison for roughly a year, and found myself at the Cave Canem writing retreat. That year, Ms. Clifton was the special guest. So, early one morning all of us rose and were in this decent sized room waiting to her here speak. There were 54 black poets there. And I'm there too, excited, not knowing if I belong—but excited, cause I know that the words of the woman coming to the stage guided me through the darkest of dark nights. And there is no real way to thank a person who you met through literature when the world was falling down on your head, no when you had pulled the world down on your head. So, I'm excited right, sitting in the front row unashamed for the first time in my life of being this bookworm, half cool, half poet cat. I've never really been captivated before, but I'm there and it's like I'd found my way into a dream that couldn't have been true. You have to understand I'd been loving this woman's work for a good decade, that it was a crucial piece in my figuring out how to be a man in prison. But more than that, just to be frank, dudes coming out of prison don't expect to be certain places, and siting before Lucille Clifton was one of them. Anyway, I proceeded to ask her 411 questions about her work. I mean about specific poems that dating 10 and 20 years old. She was so damn gracious. I mean, she'd look at me like— know your hand isn't up again, and then she'd call on me. And smile. Or laugh. It was one of the few moments in my life when I was utterly grateful. The woman was awesome.
when the birds begin to walk
when the crows in their silk tuxedos
stand in the road and watch
as oncoming traffic swerves to avoid
the valley of dead things
when the geese reject the sky
and sit on the apron of highway 95
one wing pointing north the other south
and what does it mean this morning
when a man runs wild eyed from his car
shirtless and shoeless his palms spread wide
into the jungle of traffic into a world
gone awry the birds beginning to walk
the man almost naked almost cawing
almost lifting straining to fly
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