White Lady

November 2, 2010

Clifton’s poem “White Lady” contains only one punctuation mark, a period at the end of the first stanza. The rest of the poem contains no lines that are end stopped. As a reader I feel the poem is not simply about drug use, but rather about ownership and control. In a way the lack of punctuation and capitalization functions not only as a hallmark of some of Clifton’s writing, but also as the embodiment of the lack of control that the speaker of the poem feels. This lack of control is particularly evident in the second stanza where the white lady speaks. Clifton writes,

whispers

let me be your lover

whispers

run me through your

fingers

feel me smell me taste me

This second stanza is the only place in the poem where the author utilizes imperative sentences, yet the author is quoting the white lady. The lack of punctuation only highlights the intensity of the demands, the words seem to trip over one another, especially in the last line that is quoted. Those three sentences bleed into each other, reflecting the constant need of the white lady. The rest of the poem is comprised of either declarative sentences or interrogative ones. The declarative sentences function on a passive level, but when the narrator shifts to asking, “white lady/what do we have to pay/ to repossess our children”(29-31) the narrator surrenders control to the white lady. The white lady is then given the chance to issue more demands.

Yet in the final lines of the poem, the narrator seems to surrender to the idea of possession and ownership. It is as though if the white lady does not own the children of the poem then someone else will, in the last line the wordplay between “own” the verb and “own” the noun reflects the narrators feeling that ownership will be cyclical.

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