BY NIKKI GIOVANNI
(for Harlem Magic)
The laws of science teach us a pound of gold weighs as
much as a pound of flour though if dropped from any
undetermined height in their natural state one would
reach bottom and one would fly away
Laws of motion tell us an inert object is more difficult to
propel than an object heading in the wrong direction is to
turn around. Motion being energy—inertia—apathy.
Apathy equals hostility. Hostility—violence. Violence
being energy is its own virtue. Laws of motion teach us
Black people are no less confused because of our
Blackness than we are diffused because of our
powerlessness. Man we are told is the only animal who
smiles with his lips. The eyes however are the mirror of
The problem with love is not what we feel but what we
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something. Just as publicity is not production: seduction
is not seductive
If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power. Any desirable object is
bought and sold—any neglected object declines in value.
It is against man’s nature to be in either category
If white defines Black and good defines evil then men
define women or women scientifically speaking describe
men. If sweet is the opposite of sour and heat the
absence of cold then love is the contradiction of pain and
beauty is in the eye of the beheld
Sometimes I want to touch you and be touched in
return. But you think I’m grabbing and I think you’re
shirking and Mama always said to look out for men like
So I go to the streets with my lips painted red and my
eyes carefully shielded to seduce the world my reluctant
And you go to your men slapping fives feeling good
posing as a man because you know as long as you sit
very very still the laws of motion will be in effect
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
A straight rain is rare and doors have suspicionsand I hold that names begin historiesand that the last century was a cruel one. I am pretendingto be a truck in Mexico. I am a woman with a long neck and a good burdenand I waddle efficiently. Activity never sleeps and no tale of crumbling cliffscan be a short one. I have to shift weight favorably. Happinesscan’t be settled. I brush my left knee twice, my right once,my left twice again and in that way advance. The alphabetand the cello can represent horses but I can only pretendto be a dog slurping pudding. After the 55 minutes it takes to finishmy legs tremble. All is forgiven. Yesterday is going the way of tomorrowindirectly and the heat of the sun is inadequate at this depth. I seethe moon. The verbs ought and can lack infinity and somewherebetween 1957 when the heat of the dry sun naughtily struck meand now when my secrets combine in the new order of cold rainsand night winds a lot has happened. Long phrasesare made up of short phrases that bear everything “in vain” or “allin fun” “for your sake” and “step by step” precisely. I too can spring.
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
Our high school principal wagged his finger
over two manila folders
lying on his desk, labeled with our names—
my boyfriend and me—
called to his office for skipping school.
The day before, we ditched Latin and world history
to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.
We roared down rolling asphalt roads
through the Missouri River bottoms
beyond town, our heads emptied
of review tests and future plans.
We stopped on a dirt lane to hear
a meadowlark’s liquid song, smell
heart-break blossom of wild plum.
Beyond leaning fence posts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across the field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.
Now forty years after that geography lesson
in spring, I remember the principal’s words.
How right he was in saying:
This will be part of
your permanent record.