forgiving my father

it is friday. we have come

to the paying of the bills.

all week you have stood in my dreams

like a ghost, asking for more time

but today is payday, payday old man;

my mother’s hand opens in her early grave

and i hold it out like a good daughter.


there is no more time for you. there will

never be time enough daddy daddy old lecher

old liar. i wish you were rich so i could take it all

and give the lady what she was due

but you were the son of a needy father,

the father of a needy son;

you gave her all you had

which was nothing. you have already given her

all you had.


you are the pocket that was going to open

and come up empty any friday.

you were each other’s bad bargain, not mine.

daddy old pauper old prisoner, old dead man

what am i doing here collecting?

you lie side by side in debtors’ boxes

and no accounting will open them up.

Bibliographical info

Lucille Clifton's "forgiving my father" from Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969 -1980. Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton. Used with permission from BOA Editions and Curtis Brown, LTD. All rights reserved.

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