Gayle Danley on Lucille Clifton and The House

  • Historical
  • Lucille Clifton
  • Poetry
  • Reflections
  • Remembering


Sidney Clifton

“It makes sense that I’m writing this on Resurrection Monday, since
each time I step inside the Clifton House, it feels like something
inside of me is reborn. My brain keeps saying, “this is real…this is
real…you aren’t dreaming these wide stone steps that lead to the
front door, nor this gracious living room with shelves lucky enough to
hold her books. Look at the huge portrait of Mrs. Clifton. I wonder
did she love it too.”

What have I done to deserve the honor of being inside her home?

Maybe it stems back to when my daughter was a student at St. Mary’s
college. Lucille Clifton’s beautiful daughters came to speak on
campus. My Noni was giddy, snapping pictures and sending them to me in real time. There was something in Alexia and Sidney Clifton’s eyesthat told me I would meet them. I just didn’t know when, how or why.

Flash forward years later, to a request from Sidney, the oldest
daughter, that I share a writing workshop in her family’s home, the
same home that was taken from them when they were children and now reclaimed by them now that they are adults.

As I walk through the rooms, this trauma of stolen land resonates
under my skin. “This is sacred ground,” I tell myself as I pause in
Mrs. Clifton’s bedroom, then ascend the narrow stairs to the third
floor, and finally look out on the slanted rooftop that offers a
perfect view to the Baltimore harbor. Am I hallucinating or can I
still hear the laughter and mischief of little brown children? Can I
smell the table scraps the kids used to sneakily hide under the dinner
table, or is this all in my head?

Confession: I wish Mama Clifton was still in those rooms. I want her
to walk across the sitting room and ask me if I’d like a slice of warm
pound cake or a glass of sweet tea, beads of sweat kissing the glass.

I want to sit with her and listen, really listen, as she reads me her
latest poems. I want to read her my poems and see what she might say.

I want HER to give me the tour but I accept the kind accompaniment
that her daughter Alexia and son Graham offer me. We’re around the
same age so we laugh like we’ve known each other since high school.
“This is the room where my sisters slept.This is where we played. This
is what’s left of the elevator. Yes, we had an elevator until one of
us got hurt so daddy shut it down.”

This and this and on we go through the house that used to be so full
of family but now is full of plans for renovation and furniture to
fill the space.

Soon, the series of three writing workshops I’ve been conducting in
the back room (off the kitchen), will end. The pencils will be put
away, the unused scraps of paper torn and tossed.

That’s when it’ll probably hit me: I’ve taught poetry on hallowed
ground. I’ve been in HER house and breathed what’s left of her air.

Would she be proud of what is becoming of her home?

Would she be proud of me?”

–Gayle Danley



Sidney Clifton

Sidney Clifton is President of The Clifton House, Senior Vice President of Animation and Mixed Media, and Senior Consultant with Black Women Animate Studios.

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About Author

Sidney Clifton

Sidney Clifton is President of The Clifton House, Senior Vice President of Animation and Mixed Media, and Senior Consultant with Black Women Animate Studios.

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