Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT August 31st 2020

Twenty people from Canada, England, Greece, ME, PA, MI, NY, WA, and RI chatted in their geography and, with their presence, showed an interest in puzzling together possible meanings in Lucille Clifton’s ”blessing the boats.” This poem, written entirely in small cap and sans punctuation, furnished a gentle feeling for many participants, who heard “a prayer for these times,” “an Irish prayer with ‘the wind at your back,”’ a blessing, a sendoff to another place, perhaps even to a time and place beyond death. We selected this poem mindful of the transition of going into September, into the fall, and – for many – into the school year. In the shadow of the poem, each of us identified a transition in our own lives, envisioning ourselves collectively “in our boats”. As someone observed: “we are now beyond our initial understanding of what COVID is all about”, getting “glimpses or brightness” and yet still navigating the unknown. The word “may” (appearing four times in the body of poem) suggests uncertainty, possibility, permission and, in that way, allows readers a freedom to sail the poem at their own pace and understand as they will. For some, the poem exuded “gentle simplicity”. One person offered that water in literature suggests baptism and beginnings.

Many highlighted the physicality embedded in the text. The word “lip” (the lip of our understanding), was a stumbling block, a “halting” for some and, for others, an evocation of an edge, a cusp, a beginning. The “back” makes us think of a “concrete body”. One person mentioned that she had expected to read the reciprocal “love you back” but remembered to read closely (narrative’s MO) and read that the “you” (addressed in the poem) could turn from the wind and expect the wind to “love your back.” Oh, the many discoveries we make when we close read! Another participant expressed their experience of physical sensuousness that included feeling hands laid on the back of passenger(s) embarking from a place as nebulous as “this” to an unnamed “that.”  The word “innocence” called to many, who paired the word with ideas of trust, energy, and the protection of not knowing.  

One participant remembered spending time, as an aspirant to medical practice, at St. Mary’s, the geography pointed to by the poet Lucille Clifton, steering a craft on the “lip” of waves in Chesapeake Bay. Like others he brought into the discussion the trust needed to turn one’s back on the wind and allow/expect the wind to love your back.

The prompt “Write about turning from the face of fear” brought creative writing that described snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean; feeling fear (“cold, pressing “) by night and day and respite from this fear that prayer brings; choice/options depicted by Door 1 and Door 2; and references to current events and the promulgation of a fear-based culture. Together, we reflected on how fear takes on different forms, including based on the stories we tell ourselves and others.   As we adjourned (knowing we will have a holiday hiatus on September 7 and be together again on September 14), participants chatted words and phrases expressing what they were taking with them this evening: beauty, bravery, gentle transition, hope, letting my back be loved, stillness, surfing gently, and trust. Thank you for sailing with us, and see you soon!

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday, September 2nd at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

blessing the boats

                                    (at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Lucille Clifton, "blessing the boats" 
from Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. 
Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Clifton.

6 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT August 31st 2020

  1. Turning from the face of fear~~~

    It is cold, pressing harshly upon my face.
    It is there, always there, reminding me of its presence.
    When I take respite in my dreams,
    it tries to remain on the edges of the spaces,
    never too far.

    I pray on my knees,
    pushing the face of fear aside.
    It will not rule me,
    it will not govern my life.
    I have the power to negate its presence.
    I have the power of prayer.
    I have the power from above
    who is so more powerful and loving.

    Fear, be gone to the shadows.
    Let the brilliant light shine through.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Water no get enemy after Fela Anikulapo Kuti

    frozen from
    the fear of rage
    I was silenced

    turning from
    the face of fear
    I found courage

    feel words
    be rhythm
    become change
    remember to connect
    with those that have walked
    this path before you

    remember Fela Anikulapo Kuti
    the one who holds death in his pocket
    is fearless
    he goes where
    angels fear
    to tread
    his saxophone
    the stupor and spells
    of the pied piper
    a lion reborn
    no longer

    water no get enemy

    boldly flow
    to and
    from your destiny
    till you become
    as soothing calm
    and pure as water

    because water no get enemy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. al3793

    so you think we fear you
    well we do
    i know I have had my moments
    but i don’t fear you any more
    a shroud of tension still weighs upon the world
    but i don’t walk in fear any longer
    yet i sense the tension
    funny how an inanimate red spotted sub-micronic
    particle that does not think can take the world by storm
    like the twenty-foot surge of a hurricane named Laura
    or the image of people fighting for their last breath
    through the fog of a ventilator tube or
    the rasp of the sidewalk against their neck
    my dear friend Ana said I don’t fear the virus
    there are many others who I fear more

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elizabeth

    This is just a comment on how this poem reminded me of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young and how it transported me into a wonderful place that stayed with me throughout the evening.


  5. Patricia D

    The Face of Fear
    a 2-headed monster, for some
    failure, for others
    To face or not to face fear
    That is the question.
    Turning towards it
    requires courage.
    Turning away
    may invite the monster
    to haunt your dreams
    or precipitate failure.
    Best to face fear
    and sail through the night.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.