Sins of the Father

There are not words to express the way I felt reading the Shapeshifter poems by Lucille Clifton.  Everything about them was riveting, disturbing, and sad.  I took the poems to clearly detail a young girls sexual abuse at the hands of her father.  1 I took not only to describe the change of the father to creature, but to how the onset of puberty in a woman can bring out salacious desires in a man.  I took the rising of the moon to symbolize the coming of womanhood and how that not only causes a change in a young girl but can lead to unwanted attention.  It isn’t explicit that the shapeshifter is a parent until the final line, “their daughters do not know them.”  The father presents a different image during the day then at night.  He shifts from a parent to an abuser.  2 makes references to body parts (hands, eye, tongue) which I found interesting as well as inanimate objects that see and do nothing. I couldn’t help but wonder at this point if the poem was somehow referring to the position of the mother.  I mentioned earlier that the moon could be seen as the oncoming of womanhood, but it also be the mother.  I feel like the mother stood by and didn’t do anything to stop the abuse.  This leads into 4 with the girl feeling alone and having no one to turn to.  It’s hard to think of someone being unaware of what is going on in the house, but it happens.  Like other abuse victims, the girl believes that if she remains “still enough, shut enough, hard enough” the abuse will not occur. Overall I feel like there were a lot of interesting components to this poem that could be interpreted in a variety of different ways.

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One Response to Sins of the Father

  1. jkv21 says:

    I never thought about how puberty could play out in this story. That is very interesting to me because I agree that puberty would cause many questions and desires for a man. I could also see the mother figure being involved with the moon as well because she also points out in the poems that she cannot tell anyone. So I wonder if the mother knows what’s going on and is also afraid to say something, perhaps she’s not in the picture? Some mothers don’t know how to handle the situation. The way this was written was such a good way to explain her situation, and such a sad read, but I liked to read your interpretation about it.

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