Blackness, history & love · Books · Performance & Arts

love lines

The 100 Best African American PoemsThe 100 Best African American Poems by Nikki Giovanni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just sharing a few of my own favourites from this. It comes with a CD = )
❤ Nikki Giovanni ❤

The Girlfriend’s Train
Nikky Finney

“You write like a Black woman who’s never been hit before.”

I read poetry in Philly
for the first time ever.
She started walking up,
all the way, from in back
of the room.

From against the wall
she came,
big coat, boots,
eyes soft as candles
in two storms blowing.

Something she could not see
from way back there but
could clearly hear in my voice,
something she needed to know
before pouring herself back out
into the icy city night.

She came close to get a good look,
to ask me something she found
in a strange way missing
from my Black woman poetry.

Sidestepping the crowd
ignoring the book signing line,
she stood there waiting
for everyone to go, waiting
like some kind of Representative.

And when it was just the two of us
She stepped into the shoes of her words:
Hey,

You write real soft.
Spell it out kind.
No bullet holes,
No open wounds,
In your words.
How you do that?
Write like you never been hit before?
But I could hardly speak,
all my breath held ransom
by her question.

I looked at her and knew:
There was a train on pause somewhere,
maybe just outside the back door
where she had stood, listening.

A train with boxcars
that she was escorting somewhere,
when she heard about the reading.

A train with boxcars
carrying broken women’s bodies,
their carved up legs with bullet riddled
stomachs momentarily on pause
from moving cross country.

Women’s bodies;
brown, black and blue,
laying right where coal, cars,
and cattle usually do.

She needed my answer
for herself and for them too.
Hey,

We were just wondering
how you made it through
and we didn’t?

I shook my head.
I had never thought about
having never been hit
and what it might have
made me sound like.

You know how many times I been stabbed?

She raised her blouse
all the way above her breasts,
the cuts on her resembling
some kind of grotesque wallpaper.

How many women are there like you?
Then I knew for sure.

She had been sent in from the Philly cold,
by the others on the train,
to listen, stand up close,
to make me out as best she could.

She put my hand overtop hers
asked could we stand up
straight back to straight back,
measure out our differences
right then and there.

She gathered it all up,
wrote down the things she could,
remembering the rest to the trainload
of us waiting out back for answers.
Full to the brim with every age
of woman, every neighborhood
of woman, whose name
had already been forgotten.

The train blew his whistle,
she started to hurry.

I moved towards her
and we stood back to back,
her hand grazing the top
of our heads,
my hand measuring out
our same widths,
each of us recognizing
the brown woman latitudes,
the Black woman longitudes
in the other.

I turned around
held up my shirt
and brought my smooth belly
into her scarred one;
our navels pressing,
marking out some kind of new
Equatorial line.

Cleaning
Camille J Dungy

I learned regret at Mother’s sink,
Jarred tomatoes, river-mid brown,
A generation old, lumping
Down the drain. Hating wasted space,
I had discarded what I could
Not understand. I hadn’t known
A woman to fight drought or frost
For the promise of winter meals,
Hadn’t known my great-grandmother,
Or what it was to have then lose
The company of that woman
Who, upon seeing her namesake,
Child of her child, grown and gliding
Into marriage, gifted the fruit
Of her garden, a hard-won strike
Against want. Opening the jar,
I knew nothing of the rotting
Effect, the twisting grip of years
Spent packing, or years spent moving,
Further each time, from known comforts:
A grandmother’s garden, her rows
Always neat, the harvest: bright wealth
Mother hoarded. I understood
Only the danger of a date
So old. Understanding clearly
What is fatal to the body,
I only understood too late
What can be fatal to the heart

Thomas Sayers Ellis: All Their Stanzas Look Alike

Nikki-Rosa
Nikki Giovanni

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 barbeque 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
Christmases
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 happy

We Real Cool
Gwendolyn Brooks

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Nikki Giovanni: Train Rides – In Praise of Black Men

The Supremes
Cornelius Eady

We were born to be gray. We went to school,
Sat in rows, ate white bread,
Looked at the floor a lot. In the back
Of our small heads

A long scream. We did what we could,
And all we could do was
Turn on each other. How the fat kids suffered!
Not even being jolly could save them.

And then there were the anal retentive,
The terrified brown-noses, the desperately
Athletic or popular. This, of course,
Was training. At home

Our parents shook their heads and waited.
We learned of the industrial revolution,
The sectioning of the clock into pie slices.
We drank cokes and twiddled our thumbs. In the
Back of our minds

A long scream. We snapped butts in the showers,
Froze out shy girls on the dance floor,
Pinpointed flaws like radar.
Slowly we understood: this was to be the world.

We were born insurance salesmen and secretaries,
Housewives and short order cooks,
Stockroom boys and repairmen,
And it wouldn’t be a bad life, they promised,
In a tone of voice that would force some of us
To reach in self-defense for wigs,
Lipstick,

Sequins.

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