to my friend, jerina

Clifton, Lucille

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Dec-10-1996


The poet addresses Jerina, a friend and confidant who knows the narrator’s story of childhood sexual abuse at the hands--"the silent fingers in the dark"--of her own father. The poet states matter-of-factly that she long ago realized there could be no safety anywhere if there was none at home. As an adult she took refuge in her work and neglected her personal life, but now "the girl [of whom she had been ashamed] is rising in me" and she intends to "have what she / has earned, / sweet sighs, safe houses, / hands she can trust."


In this short, autobiographical poem (when Clifton read this poem at a recent reading that I attended, she stated without self-pity that her father had been an "abuser") there is understanding of the complex repercussions of childhood sexual abuse. As is so characteristic of Clifton’s work, however, there is a refusal to be victimized and ultimate triumph. Betrayal of trust, shame, and repression give way to the recognition that history need not repeat itself--that the adult woman can and will have respect, love, and safety.

Primary Source




Place Published

Brockport, N.Y.