I guess I’m lucky I’m not in prison, because the one thing that most people don’t know about me is that I’m a space freak. If I didn’t love hospitals so much, I would be freakish about how that space was organized. Actually I should confess: I like my hospital room organized in a certain way. The last time I was in the hospital everybody knew I was way better when I asked to have my flowers arranged by sizing them shorter to higher. I really have a hard time when things aren’t right. I have a friend who has a key to our home. She comes over sometimes when we are out of town to take a nap, which she usually does in my room. She always feels the necessity to call and tell me she has come over to rest. It finally, after five years, occurred to her that I knew when she came. My room was never the same. I can tell when someone has used my bathroom and for heaven's sake I know when someone has stretched out in my bed. I think it's because I was always the last one to leave the house when I was a little girl. School wasn’t all that interesting, so I would do my chores first and then go to school when school was out. Everything would be neat and I would be able to stay after school and have Sister Althea all to myself. She would talk with me and discuss books and tell me about her adventures. She was a New Yorker and she was in Cincinnati because, though a lot of folks said they were Christian, only The Convent of the Transfiguration in Glendale would accept a black American into their sisterhood. I’m sure I learned more than I can actually delineate, but what I really know is that if something was supposed to be in one place, I always wanted it there.
I’m glad I love books, too, because whatever disappointment I offer life, books help me to clear it up.
We lived in Lincoln Heights, which was just beginning to be a city. I think it was a village, but mostly it just was “there.” We didn’t have garbage collection, which was fine by me because I really loved to burn the garbage. We didn’t have neighbors living in the lot next door, so all we had to deal with were rabbits, which I liked, and rats, which I didn’t. I think every now and then I’d see a possum, but I don’t remember any skunks. My sister and I shared a room. I am the baby sister, so I was surprised Gary let me have the window. I could see the moon, with which I fell in love, and I could watch who walked up and down the side street. I recently was reading about what integration cost us. The writer was saying we lost community. I’m not so sure, but we did lose Neal’s Grocery Store on the corner. Neal was a Korean War veteran. On the back street was a cookie shop: two ginger snaps for a penny. I forget his name. Sis did hair on the upper street; her son Gene cut hair on the corner. When I moved to Blacksburg, the one thing that surprised me was that white people didn’t have hair dressing on Saturday. Black folks closed on Monday because church was Sunday and Saturday was the most important day. Women my age don’t know how to swim because the pool was open for us on Saturday. The boys could swim, but we couldn’t because we got our hair done, and no matter what the caps said water would get in and your hair would “go back”; then you’d look terrible at church. It wasn’t a hard choice: swim or church. Directly across the street Greens had a jukebox and folks hung out to dance. Up the opposite corner Lyles had a grocery store. The Lyles family adopted a son named Luther and that’s all I remember. Down the next corner Anderson had a drug store, and Mrs. Anderson was close to my friend Nate Green. Then you turned the corner to go to St. Simon’s School, which held our church and tennis courts, if there is any difference. If I backed up there was a bar on the side street down from Neal’s which Mommy and I would sometimes walk down to — or I guess that’s over to — to purchase a quart of beer. Not for me. I still don’t like to drink beer, though in winter I don’t mind cooking my oxtails in it. And that was my space. When that space was finally disrupted it was time for me to move on. Oh, did I mention The Isley Brothers
lived in The Valley Homes for a while, until Mrs. Isley moved them to Blue Ash and Vernon was hit by a car, and she moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, and they still won all the amateur shows?
The one thing that most people don’t know about me is that I’m a space freak.
Maybe prison would work. I’m not friendly, but I am polite. I would write my favorite authors and get free copies of their books. I’d volunteer in the prison library and I’d find a corner that I’d make mine and read and dream all day. I remember when I was in the 6th or 7th grade, Rose tried to bully me. She was bigger and stronger, but it was one of those things where you knew the only solution was fighting. So one not too cold day she pushed me and I had to push back. I got beat up but not all that bad, and since I was in an Episcopalian school, I could go to my favorite nun, who asked what happened. I knew she knew what happened, so we just sort of sat there talking about bullying. Kids get bullied today and they shoot or stab folks. I could just sit with Sister Althea and feel loved. I had heard and sometimes seen my father hit my mother. Actually, if you asked what I was doing on Saturday night about 11:00 p.m. I would say listening to my father hit my mother. When I could no longer make any sense of it, I was lucky enough that my grandmother let me come live with her and Grandpapa. That's where my sense of space would come through for me. I loved to dust, I straightened the pantry twice a year, I learned to iron and especially to put creases in Grandpapa’s undershorts — I was useful. But more, I was loved. And I loved.
I’m glad I love books, too, because whatever disappointment I offer life, books help me to clear it up. Fortunately for me, I learned to ignore my anger and hurt. I learned to create with words; though I could never really sing and I still can’t dance. So I’m not in prison, but I am still controlled by my space. I’m excited about whatever transformation there will be. If dirt makes soil better for growing, Heaven must do wonderful things for the side of us we can’t yet see. I’m glad I do poems. And I’m glad I had folks to support that. I’m glad, as late as it is, that I have learned to respect A Good Cry
÷ ÷ ÷
, poet, activist, mother, and professor, is a seven-time NAACP Image Award winner and the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, and holds the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry, among many other honors. The author of 28 books and a Grammy nominee for The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection
, she is the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Good Cry
is her most recent book.