Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon


I think first of thirst,—

not the lighted sprays sprinkling

domes of mist

over the small pond in my

gated community,

but of skin—

of black and white

photographs, public

drinking fountains

labeled colored     whites—


of what my mother could quench

in her time and what

she could not touch.

And of the phone call

I made to her from college

my freshman year.

A history class at

Washington and Lee

taught the origins of

the sit-in movement—

segregated lunch counters

at North Carolina A&T.


You were there, I accused.

I had done the math

and it placed her

there, a freshman like me.

You never said anything

to us about it.


What is there to say about people

spitting in your food?

she demanded. And I remember

how, once, enraged, she spat

at me, my siblings, Your lives have been

what I’ve told you they’ve been

whether it was the truth

or not.


She has been gone two years.

Outside, uncounted

droplets from the fountain

hit the pond.

I stand inside at my window

and watch. My life

is this recording.




“Fountain” is from The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (University of Georgia Press, 2007).