Sunday, December 21, 2008

About "Shapeshifters"...

I was fortunate enough to have met the distinguished poet, writer and educator, Lucille Clifton, in person during my junior year of college. She was a guest speaker during Black History Month. Her quiet demeanor gave no hint of the power her words would possess. But after hearing her read her "shapeshifter poems" in her own voice, with her own deliberate inflections, my ability to relate to those who endure childhood sexual abuse forever changed.

Today, I had a conversation with a friend, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I had to share these poems. The consequential and residual effects of a mother who does not believe, or chooses not to believe, their own child's report of sexual abuse are profound. It can create a level of dysfunction in a family that is far beyond imagination, recognition, and if left unaddressed, beyond repair. So, I write about this today in hopes that some mother out there will not discount or dismiss these reports without validation, regardless of personal feelings of perhaps failure to protect, shame, and/or inadequacy. For who is left to protect your child when you have chosen to protect the shapeshifter?

WARNING: The "shapeshifter poems" may be very difficult reading for sexual abuse survivors. Please do not read alone without necessary support. A list of support resources is provided further below.

shapeshifter poems


the legend is whispered
in the women's tent
how the moon when she rises
follows some men into themselves
and changes them there
the season is short
but dreadful shapeshifters
they wear strange hands
they walk through the houses
at night their daughters
do not know them


who is there to protect her
from the hands of the father
not the windows which see and
say nothing not the moon
that awful eye not the woman
she will become with her
scarred tongue who who who the owl
laments into the evening who
will protect her this prettylittlegirl


if the little girl lies
still enough
shut enough
hard enough
shapeshifter may not
walk tonight
the full moon may not
find him here
the hair on him


the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow the one
she cannot tell the one
there is no one to hear this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world

Credit: Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton.

*You can buy this specific collection in her book Next: New Poems.

*For more books by Lucille Clifton:

*If you have been the victim of sexual abuse or violence, you are not alone. To get immediate help and support (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), you may contact the resources listed below:

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD)

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

*You can also visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline:

*You can find contact information for crisis centres and like organisations in your state at: and

*For FAQ on sexual assault and a list of helpful tips, visit:


Anonymous said...

Where does one start on this topic? This is a topic too familiar for many women.

Any mother who has experienced hearing words or suspected that their little one has been violated, girl or boy should never dismiss it.

Like the author of this blog shared, it's so critical in today's society to have an open communication with your children. Remember that your offspring is your responsibility and by all means; you should take the time to protect and nurture them in order for them to make educated decisions as they get older.

Single mothers, I know it can get difficult raising a child by yourself. However, while raising your child; you can never lose sight of your child's well being. Because children today are so technologically inclined, it's important for parents to make sure that the media and other mediums isn't the source of their values.

This is a serious matter.

TnT said...

this poem gives me shivers! sistren we are survivors, we hold up the world on our shoulders.

vchelle said...

Thank you for sharing these poems. These words resonated my memories in a deep place within me that has healed. Thank God for healing!

if the little girl lies
still enough
shut enough
hard enough
shapeshifter may not
walk tonight
the full moon may not
find him here
the hair on him

Women and men who were victims of such an act. Forgive! It will heal you.

Parents, please be aware and if you feel something is not right, it isn't. Intuitition is real.

God Bless all of you and remember to accept. By accepting, you heal.