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Teaching Lucille Clifton's "wishes for sons"

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

A brief reflection on teaching Clifton's "wishes for sons" and the reactions of male students.

poem on a typewriter


A few quick words about parenting sons. The first time I taught this poem at Georgetown, most of the young men in the class were outraged; the young women in the class were delighted, and many were laughing. Together, we discussed the possibility that “wishes for sons” is a loving poem written by a loving mother. Many of the young men relaxed—they got it. They began to see that a woman’s standpoint mattered. One student suggested, in fact, that this poem might be “sex education” for men. I read this poem with each of my sons when they were about fourteen. They still quote it.

English‌ ‌teacher‌ ‌comment‌ ‌that‌ ‌I‌ ‌can’t‌ ‌resist--notice‌ ‌that‌ ‌each‌ ‌

stanza,‌ ‌although‌ ‌beginning‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌lower-case‌ ‌letter,‌ ‌ends‌ ‌grammatically‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌period‌!


wishes for sons

i wish them cramps.

i wish them a strange town

and the last tampon.

i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early

and wearing a white skirt.

i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes

and clots like you

wouldn't believe. let the

flashes come when they

meet someone special.

let the clots come

when they want to.

let them think they have accepted

arrogance in the universe,

then bring them to gynecologists

not unlike themselves.


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