Lilies in the Valley by Cedric Tillman


ISBN  978-0-9897357-2-8

Willow Books




“Cedric Tillman’s poems are straightforward and full of rich details.  These poems unfold with rhythm and resonate with remembering; they have much emotional appeal, depicting pop culture, family life, blues, violence, love, religion and history.  Lilies In The Valley is a serious and daring book.”

–Lenard D. Moore, author of Forever Home

“Cedric Tillman’s “Lilies in the Valley” is poetic scripture. Rooted in culture, family, love, and the word, Tillman proves that sacredness can drive verse and keep it fresh like newly baked biscuits. This is modern poetry but grounded in the past. It is hip-hop and Sunday morning, church dinner chatter, love and happiness, Carolina shouts and sermons, a new voice ready to testify and do so in a way that no one has yet done before.”

–Brian Gilmore, Finalist, 2013 Willow Books Literature Awards

“In Cedric Tillman’s poetry we find the struggle, humor, and beauty of life held in delicate balance. Exquisitely rendered in lines that at times take your breath away and at other times make you laugh or ache, Tillman’s voice sings a song of himself and of many. You’ll want to hear how varied his song can be, conveying the despair of working in retail, the depths of black Christianity, the joys and constraints of marriage, the pain and comfort of knowing your people. A fine collection of poetry—complex, nuanced, and real.”

–Malin Pereira, author of Light Both Brilliant and Unseen: Conversations With Contemporary Black Poets


Portrait of a Family


A tall, cool yellow man in a tilted hat

stands beside your dark narrow figure

as you reach down to keep

three sullen milk-eyed little boys

in the picture.

Your stubborn hair only half remains in a ponytail

and you stare into the camera,

eyes wearied with having just enough

but not so much

you could become the teacher you wanted to be

not so much

we can’t see the bricks under the porch

in the background, not so much

you could stop the older girls from getting married

for a two-person bed

and a bigger piece of chicken.


Nowadays you might justly fault America

for the fatigue in your face

perpetually trapped in the tinge of this snapshot—

find her guilty of pricking your fingers

and pocking the cotton

with bolls of your blood.

You might blame her for the belt welts

on the boys, the penalty Daddy exacts

for coming up short at the scales,

the cost of doing insufficient business.

You could find her liable for

the family’s disposal to swift half-lives,

the babies too early or too often,

an arranged marriage with the land

and a man harder than the last breath

he sieved long ago into silica-scarred lungs,

The atrophied potential of your illiterate sons.

But someone would argue the point.

Someone who bought bootstraps

with inheritance money.

This is the fruit of your seed

that lies rotting in her fields,

or you might merely pity

this aversion to husbandry,

her lust for self-sabotage.

About the Author

Cedric Tillman hails from Anson County, NC and was raised in Charlotte. He is a graduate of UNCC and The American University’s Creative Writing MFA program. A Cave Canem fellow, Cedric’s poems appear in several publications including CrosscutFolio, The Chemistry of Color, Cave Canem Anthology XII and Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poets From the Carolinas, edited by Kwame Dawes. He lives in Charlotte with his family.

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