Giovanni’s poems in Re: Creation and My House tend to be less confrontational than her earlier poems, though they’re still there, like “Ugly Honkies, or The Election Game and How to Win It” with lines like “ever notice how it’s only the ugly/ honkies/ who hate/ like Hitler was an ugly dude/ same with lyndon/ ike nixon hhh wallace maddox.” Strangely, this movement away from confrontation results in several poems that are little more than sentimental snapshots, more songs than poetry.

Luckily, there’s also a few more poems like this,


the last time i was home
to see my mother we kissed
exchanged pleasantries
and unpleasantries pulled a warm
comforting silence around
us and read separate books

i remember the first time
i consciously saw her
we were living in a three room
apartment on burns avenue

mommy always sat in the dark
i don’t know how i knew that but she did

that night i stumbled into the kitchen
maybe because i’ve always been
a night person or perhaps because i had wet
the bed
she was sitting on a chair
the room was bathed in moonlight diffused through
those thousands of panes landlords who rented
to people with children were prone to put in windows
she may have been smoking but maybe not
her hair was three-quarters her height
which made me a strong believer in the samson myth
and very black

i’m sure i just hung there by the door
i remember thinking: what a beautiful lady

she was very deliberately waiting
perhaps for my father to come home from his night job
or maybe for a dream
that had promised to come by
“come here” she said “i’ll teach you
a poem: i see the moon
the moon sees me
god bless the moon
and god bless me”
i taught it to my son
who recited it for her
just to say we must learn
to bear the pleasures
as we have borne the pains

Of course, being a voracious reader I identify with the last lines in the first stanza. Much of my time with significant others has been spent reading in the same space. Though most of the time it’s simply giving the other person time to do what they like to do, it can also be a way of avoiding dealing with the other person.

I’m not sure I remember the first time I saw my mother “consciously,” though it may have been the time she fell down and clipped her chin in her bedroom, knocked herself out, and was gushing blood from her chin. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I ever had to help her with anything, and up to that moment I probably thought she was omnipotent. She’d always taken care of me, and herself.

Although I loved my mother dearly, I really liked the ending of this poem, “just to say we must learn/ to bear the pleasures/ as we have borne the pain,” which, for me at least, took it out of the purely “sentimental” category. I don’t think I’ve ever had a long term relationship with anyone that hasn’t included both pleasure and pain, particularly with someone as important as a parent.

Make My Day

I’ve been out birding locally twice this week, and there seems to be more birds in my own neighborhood than in the local hot spots, perhaps because the water levels are so low in the lakes. There was nothing but year-round mallards at Titlow, and Waughop was little better. I thought I’d have to be satisfied with a glimpse of this juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe,

Juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe

until I caught sight of an Osprey diving repeatedly into the lake. Of course, it was on the side I’d already been on. I’d almost decided to go back when the Osprey came circling overhead,

Ospey Overhead

but unfortunately didn’t dive again. Still, it was enough to make my day.

The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968-1998

After 50+ years of attending school I find it difficult not to turn to literature when September approaches, and this year is no different than any other year. In fact, I started reading The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni over a week ago. I suspect that I was originally drawn to the collection by someone posting a poem like this on their site,


sometimes i feel like i just get in
everybody’s way
when i was a little girl
i used to go read
or make fudge
when i got bigger i
or picked my nose
that’s what they called
or when i got older
but it was only
that i was in the way

a poem whose simplicity and immediacy definitely appeals to me. As a teacher I encountered far too many kids who seemed to feel as if their intelligence marked them, set them apart from others.

Unfortunately, there have been far too few of these kinds of poems in the first hundred pages of the collection and far too many like:

The True Import of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro
(For Peppe, Who Will Ultimately Judge Our Efforts)

Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill a honkie
Can a nigger kill the Man
Can you kill nigger
Huh? nigger can you
Do you know how to draw blood
Can you poison
Can you stab-a-Jew
Can you kill huh? nigger
Can you kill
Can you run a protestant down with your
’68 El Dorado
(that’s all they’re good for anyway)
Can you kill
Can you piss on a blond head
Can you cut it off
Can you kill
A nigger can die
We ain’t got to prove we can die
We got to prove we can kill
They sent us to kill
Japan and Africa
We policed europe
Can you kill
Can you kill a white man
Can you kill the nigger
in you
Can you make your nigger mind
Can you kill your nigger mind
And free your black hands to
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can you shoot straight and
Fire for good measure
Can you splatter their brains in the street
Can you kill them
Can you lure them to bed to kill them
We kill in Viet Nam
for them
We kill for UN & NATO & SEATO & US
And everywhere for all alphabet but
Can we learn to kill WHITE for BLACK
Learn to kill niggers
Learn to be Black men

Accompanied by endnotes like this by Virginia Fowler that provide context for the poems:

“The True Import of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro (For

Peppe, Who Will Ultimately Judge Our Efforts)”

“Black vs. Negro”: Naming has always had enormous importance to Black Americans because of its connection to identity and power. Africans brought to this country and sold into slavery were stripped of their names and forced to take the names given them by their new masters. In the 1960s special attention was focused on this issue. Those involved in the Black Power and Black Arts movements drew significant distinctions between the terms “Negro,” “nigger,” and “Black.” Sarah Webster Fabio wrote a definitive essay on this topic for Negro Digest, in which she offered the following analysis:

Scratch a Negro and you will find a nigger and a potential black man; scratch a black man and you may find a nigger and the remnants of a Negro. Negro is a psychological, sociological, and economical fabrication to justify the status quo in America. Nigger is the tension created by a black man’s attempt to accommodate himself to become a Negro in order to survive in a racist country. Black is the selfhood and soul of anyone with one drop of black blood, in Amer- ica, who does not deny himself.

The black community has always known-and it is becoming apparent to the world-that America wants Negroes and niggers but not black people.

James Baldwin makes reference to the observation that “the Negro-in-America is a form of insanity which overtakes white men.” The Negro is a pathology: Baldwin has also said that there is “no Negro, finally, who has not had to make his own precarious adjustment to the ‘nigger’ who surrounds him and to the ‘nigger’ in himself.” Being black, then, is a reaffirmation of selfhood; it is a meaningful anti-dote to white racism; it is a move toward deniggerizing the world population of non-white people and of humanizing the white people. (“Who Speaks Negro? What Is Black?” Negro Digest, Sept.-Oct. 1968.)

Perhaps a black audience, or historians, might find poems like this interesting but they remind me of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice, and I couldn’t finish that book even when it was wildly popular among my “liberal” friends.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any poems that hold the same appeal for me that many of Robert Hayden’s poems did. I’m too frugal and too stubborn, though, to just discard the book now that I’ve purchased it. (I pride myself on having finished all but two books I’ve ever started reading.) Hopefully, I will find the later poems more to my liking and will be able to post on the book regularly in the next few days. Otherwise, there will continue to be blank space here at In a Dark Time more often than I would prefer.


A Lesser Yellowlegs is a rather common migrant here in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve gotten pictures of them several times in the past, but never as close as this pair of Yellowlegs I saw at Belfair Sunday.

In fact, when I first saw this one, I assumed it was a duck because it seemed to be swimming in the midst of a group of mallards, but a quick glance at its beak convinced me it was no mallard, though I’d never seen a yellowlegs in this deep of water.

Yellowlegs In Deep Water

As soon as it emerged from the water and started wading along the shore, foraging as it went I knew it was a yellowlegs.

Yellowlegs Wading in Shallow Water

They seemed remarkably bold, or very hungry, because they ignored me as I walked along the edge of the pond snapping shot after shot, fascinated by the way they searched among, and under branches.

Yellowlegs Feeding Under Roots

It’s a special treat when I get to observe any bird this long, this closely. I couldn’t resist looking up the birds’ feeding habits as soon as I got home.


It was certainly the “best bird of the day,” and that’s all it ever takes to make a day of birding a success.