Reck 1 Tessa Reck Prof. Moorhead, Instructor English 3020 September 21, 2004 Forgiving is not Forgiveness Although the title of Lucille Clifton’s poem, “forgiving my father,” indicates at first glance that the speaker has pardoned her father, the poem’s text is in opposition with this theme. Throughout the text it becomes very clear that the speaker is still angry with her father and that the act of forgiveness is not yet complete. The poem focuses more on what the father needs forgiveness for, rather than the act of forgiveness itself. It is evident, however, that it is the speaker’s aim to come to some kind of closure about her relationship with her father as she says, “it is Friday. we have come/to the paying of the bills.” The speaker indicates that she wants to settle whatever debt she feels she has with her father, but forgiveness of that debt turns out to be a complex process because it is revealed that the father’s debt is not necessarily owed so much to his daughter as to his wife. “Friday,” in this poem, seems to mean the day the speaker has arrived at in order to settle her accounting with her father. For some time, she has been haunted by him “like a ghost, asking for more time/but today is payday, payday old man.” This demonstrates her determination to forgive or resolve her issues with her father. Her anger with him, though, continues to flare up as the poem continues. The opposition continues as she refers to him as “daddy daddy” in the second stanza. Those two words, on their own, would generally suggest endearment or affection, but the speaker in the poem follows them with “old lecher/old liar,” clearly portraying her anger with her father for always wanting more money and never having Reck 2 enough of his own. This anger is followed by yet another reversal of emotion as the speaker acknowledges that maybe her father does need forgiveness, for he did the best that he could: “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.” These lines show that the speaker, though still angry with her father for being a liar and a lecher, realizes that perhaps these faults had more to do with her mother than with herself. It seems to occur to the speaker here that the debt of her father is owed more to her mother than to herself, and so her reasons for being angry no longer hold up as well. The father’s debt to the speaker’s mother is explained further in a few other select lines. In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker mentions that in attempting to collect the debt of her father, her “mother’s hand opens in her early grave/and I hold it out like a good daughter.” This line is ambiguous, since it offers no explanation of the speaker’s relationship with her mother, or the relationship between the mother and the father. In the second stanza, as stated, it is said that the father gave all to the mother and would be unable to give his daughter anything. As the poem goes on in the third stanza, the speaker gives a little more insight into the relationship between her mother and father as she says, “you were each other’s bad bargain, not mine.” This provides another reason for the speaker to forgive her father, because this line indicates further that even though she is angry with her father, the true debt to be settled is between her father and her mother. The third and final stanza also articulates most clearly the speaker’s own conflicted feelings about forgiving her father. “daddy old pauper old prisoner, old dead man/what am i doing here collecting?” The poem’s title, “forgiving my father,” seems to be in direct contrast to the idea of the speaker labeling her father with these angry, lost words and standing by his Reck 3 graveside waiting to collect on her father’s debt. Conversely, though, the rest of the stanza and the end of the poem leaves the speaker questioning the forgiveness that she is searching to find within herself as she thinks to herself, “what am i doing here collecting?/you lie side by side in debtor’s boxes/and no accounting will open them up.” At this point, it’s almost as though the speaker realizes that she can no longer expect any kind of payment or consolation from her father and that she understands the only way she will be at peace with her parents is if she does forgive them. These two opposing feelings and thoughts -- having forgiven her father and the struggle to let go of her anger and disappointment -- can be reconciled to a certain extent through a different reading of the poem’s title. “forgiving my father” is a title that uses the word “forgive” in the context of being in the present tense. The forgiveness is not something that is in the past or is concluded, but rather a continuing and ongoing process. Hence, the resolution of these two ideas, ironically, comes from the idea that the two ideas may not actually have to be reconciled yet, but that the speaker may need to continue to work through her own resentment and disappointment in her father to eventually come to a state of forgiveness. Reck 4 Works Cited Carmichael, Mary. “Health: Are We Dying To Be Thin?” Newsweek 3 March 2003: Infotrac 1. “Ephedra and Adverse Events.” Alternative Medicine Alert December 2003: Infotrac 1. “FDA Rolling Out Ephedra Warning Labels.” Associated Press. 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