Analysis Of The Poem "Move"

931 words - 4 pages

Lucille Clifton's poem "Move" deals specifically with an incident that occurred in Philadelphia on May 13, 1985. On that date, Mayor Wilson Goode, Philadelphia's first African American mayor, authorized the use of lethal force against fellow African Americans living at 6221 Osage Avenue. In her introduction to the poem, Clifton says that there had been complaints from neighbors, who were also African American, concerning the "Afrocentric back-to-nature" group that called itself "Move" and had its headquarters at this address (35). The members of this group wore their hair in dreadlocks and they all used their surname of "Africa." Clifton's poem suggests that it was these differences that cost the lives of eleven people, including children, and the loss of sixty-one homes, as authorities bombed the neighborhood rather than tolerate such diversity. In this poem, Clifton emphasizes the word "move," giving it a layered meaning that encompasses it not only as the name of the organization of the people who were bombed, but also as the imperative command to take action and "move" away from harm. Ultimately, however, the word becomes a command that is directed toward the African American major who caused the tragedy. Clifton points an accusing finger, saying that it is he that should "move" and not the people to whom he directed such violence.

The poem begins with Clifton addressing the feelings of Move's neighbors, their hesitation and anxiety over neighbors who were so different from their own ideas concerning societal norms. Clifton writes, "they had begun to whisper/among themselves hesitant/ to be branded neighbor..." (lines 1-3). As these lines indicate, in the first stanza, Clifton expresses the sentiments of their neighbors who viewed the "wild haired women" and "naked children" who so closely affiliated themselves with a continent a half world away as something totally alien in their midst. Before beginning the second stanza, there is the single word, "move." This is undoubtedly the sentiment of the neighbors who would rather not be confronted with such frank diversity on their own doorsteps. It is also, as indicated by their name, the goal of the Afro-centric group, which gives the word an ironic twist, as the hostility of the neighbors is directed toward the same goal as the group called "Move."

The second stanza reads, "he hesitated/then turned his smoky finger/ toward africa toward the house" (lines 8-10). The "he" in this instance is Mayor Wilson Goode, a man who has a "smoky" finger, that is, a man of African descent. It is he that authorizes unjust and undue violence against a place where "he might have lived," a place that he "might have owned or saved had he not turned away" (11-13). Clifton makes the point that in condemning the...

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