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On Sundays We Read Poetry

Look, I am tired, and I am scared, and I am hopeful. I am confused, and I am anxious, and I am hopeful. I am quiet, and I am uncertain, and I am hopeful. No collection to trumpet about today except the collected works of one Nikki Giovanni, a woman who has inspired and energized me for many years, and whose birthday is today. And here, in her poem "Nikki-Rosa," she proves once more that she's always known what's up:

childhood remembrances are always a drag

if you're Black

you always remember things like living in Woodlawn

with no inside toilet

and if you become famous or something

they never talk about how happy you were to have

your mother

all to yourself and

how good the water felt when you got your bath

from one of those

big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in

and somehow when you talk about home

it never gets across how much you

understood their feelings

as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale

and even though you remember

your biographers never understand

your father's pain as he sells his stock

and another dream goes

And though you're poor it isn't poverty that

concerns you

and though they fought a lot

it isn't your father's drinking that makes any difference

but only that everybody is together and you

and your sister have happy birthdays and very good


and I really hope no white person ever has cause

to write about me

because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they'll

probably talk about my hard childhood

and never understand that

all the while I was quite happy

I have this poem in a collection she edited called Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance through Poems. I was fortunate to sit in an audience to hear her for the first time in 1996. She signed this book for me then, and though my dog literally chewed a significant portion of the binding away, I will always consider it a treasured addition to my library.

Want a bit more of her brilliance? Here she is in conversation with Clint Smith talking about James Baldwin, so there's no chance it will not amaze.


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