Thursday, September 11, 2008

well girl, goodbye . . .

I've been beginning my poetry classes by reading the students a poem not on their reading list but rather chosen randomly, even quixotically, by me for sundry reasons. Looking through anthologies in my office this morning, I came across this one by Lucille Clifton. I'm not sure I'd ever read it to my class, with their average age of perhaps 20 -- I find young students rather squeamish about certain aspects of the personal and the bodily so this might come under the heading of "too much information." Not that the poem provides that but that they would quite naturally extrapolate to its significance for me -- for now, I think I'll keep a border betwen my personal and my professional personae.
But I'll share it with you, my fabulous readers.

To My Last Period (Lucille Clifton, 1991)

well girl, goodbye,
after thirty-eight years.
thirty-eight years and you
never arrived
splendid in your red dress
without trouble for me
somewhere, somehow.

now it is done,
and i feel just like
the grandmothers who
after the hussy has gone,
sit holding her photograph
and sighing, wasn't she
beautiful? wasn't she beautiful?

This poem captures so exactly my own regrets or ambivalence or even, perhaps, nostalgia for this loss, very recent yet for me, that I wish I were ready to share it with my students as an example of poetry's power. Since I can't/won't, I welcome your comments about it.


  1. I have lots of feelings about the monthly visitor. For the last five years is was a reminder that I was once again not pregnant. Only, lately does the moment of awareness of its arrival does not send me into a puddle of tears.

    Powerful poem. I hope that you share more with us. I LOVE poetry and don't read enough of it.

  2. Have always liked Lucille Clifton and was so happy she won that big prize last year. This one always comforted me...

    Homage to My Hips

    these hips are big hips.
    they need space to
    move around in.
    they don't fit into little
    petty places. these hips
    are free hips.
    they don't like to be held back.
    these hips have never been enslaved,
    they go where they want to go
    they do what they want to do.
    these hips are mighty hips.
    these hips are magic hips.
    i have known them
    to put a spell on a man and
    spin him like a top

  3. Yep, I miss it, oddly. For all the fuss and muss, it still felt like getting flowers every month.

  4. Lovely poem, very evocative!

    I don't miss Ms Menarche, but I'm a bit in the "where did the young woman go" phase each time I look in the mirror. It's that limbo between no longer young, but not old yet, which I think the second stanza captures so well.

  5. LBR: I suppose it's true -- the very regularity that I'm missing now was something that brought you sadness far too punctually.
    Did you see Duchesse's poetry contribution below? It's great!
    Duchesse: Thanks for this -- I love it! Isn't the woman a wonder!
    Anon: It was so reassuring . . . . what kind of flowers?
    Pseu: Yes! the space between the grandmothers and the young hussy and we obviously can't time-travel backwards.

  6. I had a friend who would ask whether 'the Reds were at home' (he was a Manchester United fan!) I am so wound up before and so thoroughly drained after I have serously been toying begging the Dr for a hysterectomy.
    I love poems like this, that celebrate what we take for granted.

  7. I have one of those new-fangled IUDs that mean that "les anglais ne débarquent plus" (talk about a euphemism!). That's my choice. However, in a couple of years' time when it is no longer my choice, I think I will feel rather bereft.

  8. Some of the new birth control pills reduce a period to an annual event, a strange concept to me though undoubtably convenient. I wonder if any of your young students use these, ma?
    Lucille Clifton, an African American woman, signals her ethnicity from the first line... will your students pick this up?

  9. A wonderful poem on a topic of which I, admittedly, have little knowledge.

    But it, and the poem on hips above, makes me think of a discussion I've been having lately...with only partially willing listeners, that man is the architect of his own misfortune by being stilted and confined by concepts of beauty. If you love women you should, for the benefit of yourself and humanity, love them completely, not with provisos but with abandon, and learn, for not one of us is beyond learning, to love all aspects of them. (Naturally the same goes for men who love men.)

    And so I have taken, and here we lose a bit of the romance, to reading articles on anatomy and biology, for as the song goes - to know, know, know (insert appropriate gender here), is to love...

  10. Alison: I wonder if anyone's collected all the nicknames and euphemisms by which we signal menstruation -- Are The Reds at home? is pretty funny!
    A friend of mine had a hysterectomy last year for that very reason and is very glad she did -- like Lesley, below, the period-stoppage (from different causes, of course) is perceived differently when it's one's own choice than when it's Nature announcing that time's up!
    Lesley: That's hilarious -- Why "les Anglais"?
    And yes, that's precisely the word, "bereft"
    Duchesse: I'll have to ask my daughters if they know anyone on that version of the pill -- I spent less than two years, all told, on the pill, so my hormonal cycle was mine, all mine, and I found its singularity and regularity familiar and comforting for 41 years!! (I'm including pregnancy and nursing, etc., as part of the hormonal cycle, altho' menstruation wasn't always part of it).
    As for my students, if I were to teach this poem, I'd definitely have to provide them some cultural background about the specific diction in the poem and how that does, as you say, signal her ethnicity.
    Thomas: Yes! Not only are women attracted to men who truly "get" them, men who can find a wide variety of women attractive because they see beyond the superficial, but I believe that those men will have so much richer a relationship with a woman who's able to relax and risk sharing herself, not fearing that she's deviating from some perceived ideal.
    The risk, beyond losing the romance, of reading anatomy/biology articles, could be in the authorship of those articles. Knowledge about women's bodies has for centuries been usurped and controlled by men, women's knowledge of same negated and ignored. But you're bright and wise enough to watch for those pitfalls. There's the classic Our Bodies Ourselves, but there's also listening and observing and caring about the important people in your life. Knowledge and love, as the song suggests, go together.

  11. That took me a minute. Aha, good old Aunt Flo.

    Now that I'm surgically sterile, I find my attitude a bit different. No surprises, none of the will it come? wondering anymore. Now it's a little more of the, geez, here's an obsolete bit of required plumbing maintenance. But lately I find I'm wondering how I will manage without that monthly surge of energy and affection that comes first. Oh well, mom says I have a good 15 years before I have to find out.

    That's a lot of obsolete plumbing maintenance.

  12. Dana: I don't see periods beyond surgical sterilization as merely obsolete plumbing, but maybe that's because for a while I was getting yeast infections once or twice a year -- menstruation seems to be a way to restore PH levels. Plus, as you suggest, there are other mood-related functions it serves (not always interpreted as positively as you do, admittedly).

  13. hmmmm, does no period = no single, stubborn, related blemish?
    i'm trying to be so aware and appreciative of each stage that i'm in while i'm in it so that i won't be maudlin over those that are past, feeling, hopefully, satisfied that i had/owned/lived, consciously and actively, each one. thus far it is working, but i don't know if i've reached any hurdles as significant as dropping my periods (sorry, i've never liked nor used nicknames). the white hairs that are very there are quite okay with me - in fact i've enjoyed the challenge of owning them and adapting my style to acknowledge them. i've stared youth in the pretty blushing face and not felt envy.

  14. Editor: I hope I'm never maudlin over past life stages, but you might find it sobering to know that rather than a guaranteed end to period-related blemishes, the post-period days come with the less-easy-to-live-with-than-white-hairs delights of black short-and-curlies growing on one's chin! Not that there aren't compensations -- I find it wonderfully easy now to simply delight in youth's beauty without any envy at all -- indeed, I feel an odd sort of proprietary joy in it, having once lived in its skin, then mothered it, and now being ready to watch my next generation take it on.
    Still, the challenges of letting go are different from earlier challenges -- my very body is speaking to me in a language I don't quite recognize yet, and aches and pains I would have interpreted one way only six months ago now mean something quite different. And I've crossed a very clearly-drawn line, moved into distinctive territory . . .

  15. you've got the best parts of youth in you still - curiosity and honesty. i've shared the company of people with the worst parts (vanity and insecurity). i think you know how well-off you are.

  16. Thank you, Ed., -- I do feel very fortunate!

  17. As much as I love it when Duchesse calls me "Ma"?! LOL


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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