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.
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
shapeshifter may not
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: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/102-0749818-0484902?url=index%3Dstripbooks%3Arelevance-above&field-keywords=Lucille%20Clifton
*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: http://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline
*You can find contact information for crisis centres and like organisations in your state at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/violence/state/ and
*For FAQ on sexual assault and a list of helpful tips, visit: http://www.4woman.gov/faq/sexual-assault.cfm.