Starshine & Clay

Kamilah Aisha Moon is Lucille Clifton’s daughter– not by blood but by literary inheritance born of the same observation with which you learn the “Sunday walk” of your mama’s best friend. It’s not just that Moon has studied Clifton; many academics study poetry and still can’t write themselves out of paper bags or into books as rich, as measured as Starshine & Clay, the book Moon named after her (literary) mama. Moon did more than study Clifton. She adopted her.

Consider her title for evidence. More than just a few lines snatched from the untitled poem most commonly known by its first line, “won’t you celebrate with me?”, the title instead announces the artist’s location. Moon is not writing from just any bridge; she is standing on the same bridge Clifton stood on when she “made it all up,” fashioning a life worth fighting for in a country that denies us hope:

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Let us celebrate what magic Moon makes on her personal bridge between starshine and clay. Consider Moon’s “Prodigal Daughter,” which begins with lamentation over the ways church folks don’t “…sing gospel/ the right way. They don’t sang it” (2-3), and ends with a meditation on what change means in a country that seems hell-bent on its own self destruction:

I’ve come to be saved, to remember why
I’m still worthy. But I’m becoming convinced
a good memory is a passport to hell.
Perhaps like thouse in Manila & the Gulf Coast,
I want water to be a good thing again,
Like love. How strange to answer the begging
of so many thirsts, unable to swallow. (32-38)

This is more than ambling; this is Ms. Lucille’s Sunday walk adapted to the reality of her new world daughter, who has inherited her mama’s syntax and way with last lines. Yet another inheritance is the way Moon deals with illness on the page. Like Clifton, who lived with cancer for many years before she passed away in 2010, Moon is frank about the way the body acts as the keeper of records the world would rather us forget. In “Fibroids,” Moon tells us that the condition is actually “bitter planets spinning/ beneath navels/ A twining of all/ we’ve been forced/ to ingest” (4-8). For Moon, illness is not just the business of the body, but a reflection of one’s social position and the ways we protest (or fail to adapt to) injustice on a cellular level.

Although Moon penned these lines for her poet-sister-friend Rachel Eliza Griffiths after the death of her mother, they also ring true for Moon and all Ms. Lucille’s daughters on bridges everywhere: “When mothers are planted/ daughters begin a furious blooming.” (52-53).

Reviewer: Asha French

Asha French is a poet and essayist. She writes about parenting her favorite daughter, mourning her favorite father, and learning how to love women in ways that heal. She is a former columnist for whose work has appeared in Pluck, PoetryMemoirStory, Emory Magazine, Mutha Magazine, Women’s Media Project, and Autostraddle.