rosa parks


Rosa Parks
Nikki Giovanni

This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would know they were not alone. This is for the Pullman Porters who helped Thurgood Marshall go south and come back north to fight the fight that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education because even though Kansas is west and even though Topeka is the birthplace of Gwendolyn Brooks, who wrote the powerful “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” it was the Pullman Porters who whispered to the traveling men both the Blues Men and the “Race” Men so that they both would know what was going on. This is for the Pullman Porters who smiled as if they were happy and laughed like they were tickled when some folks were around and who silently rejoiced in 1954
when the Supreme Court announced its 9—0 decision that “separate is inherently unequal.” This is for the Pullman Porters who smiled and welcomed a fourteen-year-old boy onto their train in 1955. They noticed his slight limp that he tried to disguise with a doo-wop walk; they noticed his stutter and probably understood why his mother wanted him out of Chicago during the summer when school was out. Fourteen-year-old Black boys with limps and stutters are apt to try to prove themselves in dangerous ways when mothers aren’t around to look after them. So this is for the
Pullman Porters who looked over that fourteen-year-old while the train rolled the reverse of the Blues Highway from Chicago to St. Louis to Memphis to Mississippi. This is for the men who kept him safe; and if Emmett Till had been able to stay on a train all summer he would have maybe grown a bit of a paunch, certainly lost his hair, probably have worn bifocals and bounced his grandchildren on his knee telling them about his summer riding the rails. But he had to get off the train. And ended up in Money, Mississippi. And was horribly, brutally, inexcusably, and unacceptably murdered. This is for the Pullman Porters who, when the
sheriff was trying to get the body secretly buried, got Emmett’s body on the northbound train, got his body home to Chicago, where his mother said: I want the world to see what they did to my boy. And this is for all the mothers who cried. And this is for all the people who said Never Again. And this is about Rosa Parks whose feet were not so tired, it had been, after all, an ordinary day, until the bus driver gave her the opportunity to make history. This is about Mrs. Rosa Parks from Tuskegee, Alabama, who was also the field secretary of the NAACP. This is about the moment Rosa Parks shouldered her cross, put her worldly goods
aside, was willing to sacrifice her life, so that that young man in Money, Mississippi, who had been so well protected by the Pullman Porters, would not have died in vain. When Mrs. Parks said “NO” a passionate movement was begun. No longer would there be a reliance on the law; there was a higher law. When Mrs. Parks brought that light of hers to expose the evil of the system, the sun came and rested on her shoulders bringing the heat and the light of truth. Others would follow Mrs. Parks. Four young men in Greensboro, North Carolina, would also say No. Great voices would be raised singing the praises of God and exhorting us “to forgive those who trespass against us.” But it was the Pullman Porters who safely got Emmett to his granduncle and it was Mrs. Rosa Parks who could not stand that death. And in not being able to stand it. She sat back down.


Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash


I Take Master Card
(Charge Your Love to Me)
Nikki Giovanni
I’ve heard the stories
’bout how you don’t deserve me
’cause I’m so strong and beautiful and wonderful and you could
never live up to what you know I should have but I just want to let you know:I take Master Card

You can love me as much as your heart can stand
then put the rest on
account and pay the interest
each month until we get this thing settled You see we modern women do comprehend
that we deserve a whole lot more
than what is normally being offered but we are trying
to get aligned with the modern world

So baby you can love me all
you like ’cause you’re pre-approved
and you don’t have to sign on
the bottom line

Charge it up
’til we just can’t take no more
it’s the modern way

I take Master Card
to see your Visa
and I deal with a Discover but I don’t want any American
Express ’cause like the Pointer Sisters say:  I need a slow hand.



Poetry is a Trestle
Nikki Giovanni
poetry is a trestle
spanning the distance between
what i feel
and what i say

like a locomotive
i rush full speed ahead
trusting your strength
to carry me over

sometimes we share a poem
because people are near
and they would notice me
noticing you
so i write X and you write O
and we both win

sometimes we share a poem
because i’m washing the dishes
and you’re looking at your news

or sometimes we make a poem
because it’s sunday and you
want ice cream while i want cookies

but always we share a poem
because belief predates action
and i believe
the most beautiful poem
ever heard is your heart



They Clapped
Nikki Giovanni
they clapped when we landed
thinking africa was just an extension
of the black world
they smiled as we taxied home to be met
black to black face not understanding africans lack
color prejudice
they rushed to declare
cigarettes, money, allegiance to the mother land
not knowing despite having read fanon and davenport
hearing all of j.h. clarke’s lectures, supporting
nkrumah in ghana and nigeria in the war that there was once
a tribe called afro-americans that populated the whole
of africa
they stopped running when they learned the packages
on the women’s heads were heavy and that babies didn’t
cry and disease is uncomfortable and that villages are fun
only because you knew the feel of good leather on good
they cried when they saw mercedes benz were as common
in lagos as volkswagens are in berlin
they shook their heads when they understood there was no
difference between the french and the english and the americans
and the afro-americans or the tribe next door or the country
across the border
they were exasperated when they heard sly and the family stone
in francophone africa and they finally smiled when little boys
who spoke no western tongue said “james brown” with reverence
they brought out their cameras and bought out africa’s drums
when they finally realized that they are strangers all over
and love is only and always about the lover not the beloved
they marveled at the beauty of the people and the richness
of the land knowing they could never possess either

they clapped when they took off
for home despite the dead
dream they saw a free future

without someone


The World Is Not a Pleasant Place to Be
Nikki Giovanni
The world is not a pleasant place
to be without
someone to hold and be held by.

A river would stop
its flow if only
a stream were there
to receive it.

An ocean would never laugh
if clouds weren’t there
to kiss her tears.

The world is
not a pleasant place to be without

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash



The Game of Games
Nikki Giovanni
when all the cards are in
when all the chips are counted
the smiles smiled
the pictures taken
i wonder
if they’ll say
you played a fair
of game?



Autumn Poems
Nikki Giovanni
the heat
you left with me
last night
still smolders
the wind catches
your scent
and refreshes
my senses

i am a leaf
falling from your tree
upon which I
was impaled

never had, never been


Personae Poem
Nikki Giovanni
I am always lonely
for things I’ve never had
and people I’ve never been

But I’m not really
because you once said
and I did
even though I don’t like



A belated RIP to Aretha.

Poem for Aretha
Nikki Giovanni
Cause nobody deals with Aretha—a mother with four children—
having to hit the road
they always say “after she comes
home” but nobody ever says what it’s like
to get on a plane for a three week tour
the elation of the first couple of audiences the good
feeling of exchange the running on the high
you get from singing good
and loud and long telling the world
what’s on your mind.

Then comes the eighth show on the sixth day the beginning
to smell like the plane or bus the if-you-forget-your-toothbrush
the strangers
pulling at you cause they love you but you having no love
to give back
the singing the same songs night after night day after day
and if you read the gossip columns the rumors that your husband
is only after your fame
the wondering if your children will be glad to see you and maybe
the not caring if they are scheming to get
out of just one show and go just one place where some doe-doe-dupaduke
won’t say “just sing one song, please!”.

Nobody mentions how it feels to become a freak
because you have talent and how
no one gives a damn how you feel
but only cares that Aretha Franklin is here like maybe that’ll stop
chickens from frying
eggs from being laid
crackers from hating

and if you say you’re lonely or tired how they always
just say “oh come off it” or “did you see
how they loved you did you see, huh, did you?”
which most likely has nothing to do with you anyway
and I’m not saying Aretha shouldn’t have talent and I’m certainly
not saying she should quit
singing but as much as I love her I’d vote “yes” to her
doing four concerts a year and staying home or doing whatever
she wants and making records cause it’s a shame
the way we’re killing her.
We eat up artists like there’s going to be a famine at the end
of those three minutes when there are in fact an abundance
of talents just waiting let’s put some
of the giants away for a while and deal with them like they have
a life to lead.

Aretha doesn’t have to relive Billi Holiday’s life doesn’t have
to relive Dinah Washington’s death but who will
stop the pattern?

She’s more important than her music—if they must be separated—
and they should be separated when she has to pass out before
anyone recognizes she needs
a rest and I say I need
Aretha’s music
she is undoubtedly the one who put everyone on
She revived Johnny Ace and remembered Lil Green. Aretha
“I say a little prayer” and Dionne doesn’t
want to hear it anymore
Aretha sings “money won’t change you”
but James can’t sing “respect” the advent
of Aretha pulled Ray Charles from marlboro country
and back into
the blues made Nancy Wilson
try one more time forced
Dionne to make a choice (she opted for the movies)
and Diana Ross had to get an afro wig pushed every
Black singer into his Blackness and negro entertainers
into negroness you couldn’t jive
when she said “you make me feel” the Blazers
had to reply “gotta let a man be/a man”
Aretha said “when my soul was in the lost and found/you came
along to claim it” and Joplin said “maybe”
there has been no musician whom her very presence hasn’t
affected when Humphrey wanted her to campaign for him she said
“woeman’s only hueman”
and he pressured James Brown
they removed Otis cause the combination was too strong the Impressions had to say “lord have mercy/we’re moving on up”
the Black songs started coming from the singers on stage and the dancers
in the streets
Aretha was the riot was the leader if she had said “come
let’s do it” it would have been done
temptations say why don’t we think about it
why don’t we think about it
why don’t we think about it