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By Lucille Clifton

they thought the field was wasting

and so they gathered the marker rocks and stones and

piled them into a barn    they say that the rocks were shaped

some of them scratched with triangles and other forms    they

must have been trying to invent some new language they say

the rocks went to build that wall there guarding the manor and

some few were used for the state house

crops refused to grow

i say the stones marked an old tongue and it was called eternity

and pointed toward the river    i say that after that collection

no pillow in the big house dreamed    i say that somewhere under

here moulders one called alice whose great grandson is old now

too and refuses to talk about slavery    i say that at the

masters table only one plate is set for supper    i say no seed

can flourish on this ground once planted then forsaken    wild

berries warm a field of bones

bloom how you must i say


Lucille Clifton, “mulberry fields” from Mercy. Copyright © 2004 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: Mercy (BOA Editions Ltd., 2004)

  • Living
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York, and educated at Howard University, where she met fellow writers Sterling Brown, A.B. Spellman, and Toni Morrison. Clifton’s free verse lyrics — spare in form — often concern the importance of family and community in the face of economic oppression. Though rooted in folktales and a strong tradition of storytelling, many of Clifton’s poems are spirited, sometimes spiritual, explorations of race and gender. See More By This Poet

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