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By Nikki Giovanni

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


Nikki Giovanni, “Mothers” from My House. Copyright © 1972 by Nikki Giovanni. Used with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (2003)

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Poet Bio

Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her B.A. at Fisk University, and completed postgraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work and Columbia University School of Fine Arts. She has been a member of the faculty at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, since 1987. She was a major force in the community following the shootings there in 2007. In addition to her many collections of poetry, she is an accomplished spoken word artist and was nominated for a Grammy in 2004. Giovanni is also a lung cancer survivor. See More By This Poet

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