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Thursday, July 31, 2003



The Lost Baby Poem


the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car we would have made the thin
walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers' hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head


--Lucille Clifton


I found "The Lost Baby Poem" here.

They describe it this way:


"A woman reminisces about and with a child she chose not to have. It would have been born in winter, in a time of financial hardship, perhaps to have been given up for adoption. Sorrow for the child that never was causes the woman to swear devotion to her living children, yet she does not seem to regret her decision. "

Yet she does not seem to regret her decision.

She...doesn't.....seem.....to regret her decision.

She DOES seem to feel like she is drowning, though, in the waters rushing back from the sewage-filled sea into which she seems to think that she dropped the baby that she seems to be thinking of all these years later, and she DOES seem to think that unless she meets an impossible standard of perfection ("if I am ever less than a mountain") with the living siblings, that she actually will drown in the sewage-filled backwash of that long-ago sea.

But regret? Nah.

Ani diFranco wrote a song, The Lost Woman Song, that was inspired by Clifton's Lost Baby Poem.

As Ani writes here:,

"ok, i have a little story i wanted to tell you. let's see...where does this story begin? our story begins in buffalo. this little 17 year old chick found herself in a little predicament...in a big one actually...a big ole predicament. The chick is me. and what do I need? an abortion, right? yep. so, i had an abortion when i was 17. and, i have already been in the habit of making little albums and writing little folk songs and driving around playing them for people...shamelessly. I was writing about all of my experiences and all of the gory details...except for that one. and, for a while, i just didn't write about it. it wasn't that i just wanted to sing about children and nature and things. i mean it wasn't really... it was more of a personal thing. i just couldn't. and then, what happened to me was i came across this poem called "the lost baby poem" by Lucille Clifton, a hero of mine. after i read this poem, i wrote this song called " the lost woman song." that poem really helped to enable me to do that and to keep...to get there. and so, being sort of a weirdo poetry faciest, they have these creepy organizations who go around and tape poets doing readings. then they will send them to you in the mail, which to me is pretty fascinating. so, you know...i am a huge customer. and i got this tape of lucille doing a reading, and she read that poem, "the lost baby poem." In her introduction to the poem, she said that it was the poem that she couldn't write for a really long time and it was kind of locked inside her. and only after reading a poem by gwendilyn brooks, called "the abortion," was she able to write "the lost baby poem." it floored me to hear her just say that because i felt like a really small part of a really big cycle of women hepling each other to speak."

Here are the lyrics to "The Lost Woman Song":

The Lost Woman Song


"i opened a bank account
when i was nine years old
i closed it when i was eighteen
i gave them every penny that i'd saved
and they gave my blood
and my urine
a number
now i'm sitting in this waiting room
playing with the toys
and i am here to exercise
my freedom of choice
i passed their handheld signs
went through their picket lines
they gathered when they saw me coming
they shouted when they saw me cross
i said why don't you go home
just leave me alone
i'm just another woman lost
you are like fish in the water
who don't know that they are wet
as far as i can tell
the world isn't perfect yet
his bored eyes were obscene
on his denim thighs a magazine
i wish he'd never come here with me
in fact i wish he'd never come near me
i wish his shoulder
wasn't touching mine
i am growing older
waiting in this line
some of life's best lessons
are learned at the worst times
under the fierce fluorescent
she offered her hand for me to hold
she offered stability and calm
and i was crushing her palm
through the pinch pull wincing
my smile unconvincing
on that sterile battlefield that sees
only casualties
never heroes
my heart hit absolute zero
lucille, your voice still sounds in me
mine was a relatively easy tragedy
now the profile of our country
looks a little less hard nosed
but that picket line persisted
and that clinic's since been closed
they keep pounding their fists on reality
hoping it will break
but i don't think there's a one of us
leads a life free of mistakes"







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