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)

Poet Bio

What People are Saying

"I was surprised how attached I got to my poems. I've had "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg" memorized since my sophomore year, and whenever I get nervous or anxious about something I recite it to myself."
Sarah Calvin-Stupfel
2018 OR POL Champ