at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989

I came across this poem in Writing Poetry, and I thought I’d share it with all of you.

at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989
by Lucille Clifton

among the rocks
at walnut grove
your silence drumming
in my bones,
tell me your names.

nobody mentioned slaves
and yet the curious tools
shine with your fingerprints.
nobody mentioned slaves
but somebody did this work
who had no guide, no stone,
who moulders under rock.

tell me your names,
tell me your bashful names
and I will testify.

the inventory lists ten slaves
but only men were 
recognized.

among the rocks
at walnut grove
some of these honored dead
were dark
some of these dark
were slaves
some of these slaves
were women
some of them did this honored work.
tell me your names
foremothers, brothers,
tell me your dishonored names.
here lies
here lies
here lies
here lies
hear

When I first read it, I was wondering whether there was some kind of mistake since, as you can see, there are no uppercase letters. Looking into the poem a bit, it is no mistake, that this was intentional and not the fault of the editor. Knowing this alone, there’s a new meaning to the poem. It’s like respect to those names that are unknown and even stresses that point.

After the turn of the poem, there is a bit of sadness in the next few stanzas, with the narrator realizing that these names will never be known. It’s like the people are gone for good, erased from ever existing. The only bit of evidence that they were alive is in the work they did at Walnut Grove Plantation.

This poem was based on a trip that Clifton went on. There are some pictures as well in the link here: http://studiesinpoetry.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/lucille-cliftons-search-for-identity/ It doesn’t have to do much with what we’ve been doing in class, but I thought that you would appreciate it and enjoy the poem.

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