are a privileged group of people. You are not going to starve
to death. You are not going to be hungry. You are
not going to be running around with no shoes on unless it is your
choice. You are at a premier institution, so your job is
not to get a job; your job is to create something different in
the world. You are that point in your life that you have
to be thinking not of your future for god's sake, but of the future
of the planet, of the future of the universe, of the future of
are at Thomas Jefferson's, I am a big fan of Thomas Jefferson,
and I am not going to blame him for wanting Sally Hemings, she
was good looking, why wouldn't he? He should have married
her but there was an anti-miscegenation law; it would not have
allowed that. So he did the next best thing, didn't he?
He bought her. That is what he did and Virginia should be
ashamed of it because he should have married her. They are
going to have children and they are going to be together, so why
shouldn't he? But then again, Virginia is for lovers, but
only if they are what? Straight. White. Because it
is certainly not for lovers if they are gay. Am I right?
is the downside of gay marriage? What am I missing here?
If gay people want to get married, what the hell do we care?
What is the big deal?
need to get married. So I said what if they got married?
They will get health care for each other? Excuse me!
What am I missing here? Of course they will have health
care because they need health care anyway. People need health
care. People need retirement benefits. People need
basic needs. So what kind of eighteenth-century crap is
it: I just don't like to see gay people together? Well that
is your problem. That is not the problem of gay people.
Gay people have a right to love each other.
is time that we moved into the twenty-first century. We
just can't have it. Those of us who are black-- and I am
always amazed at the prejudice against the black community-- have
obviously forgotten that the same things were said about us.
I just don't like to see them niggers. What is wrong with
it? One of our staunch segregationists don't you just love
old Strom? one of our staunch segregationists is like, oh my god
I am a segregationist by day but I sure am an integrationist by
night. What kind of hypocrisy are we doing? And that has
nothing to do with my prior because
I had just thought I had mentioned that. Because we have
to do better.
am a big, big, big fan of space. Of all of the things that
is going to happen in the twenty-first century, space is it.
We are going to Mars and I am thrilled. I know everyone
is, 'Nikki, how come we are going to Mars?' Because it is
there, that is the first thing. And Mars can't come here.
If a Martian landed right here, don't you know this nation, this
state, this planet would spare no expense to kill it? That
is what they would do. They would come in here, Let's kill
the Martian'. We are going to Mars because nothing can come
you just see life forms just all around us on their cell phones?
ya'll been down yet?'
I am not going. Are you going?'
have to go. The trip to Mars resides in black Americans
because the trip to Mars is nothing more, nothing less than middle
passage. We deal with slavery so wrong. I am
so tired of Americans being embarrassed by slavery because it
happened long enough ago you get over it. It is time that
we moved on. Everybody wants to deal with slavery in respect
to the body. They want to say what the slaves did, the work
that the slaves put out. The slaves worked and I couldn't
agree more. The slaves did an honest days work and I am
very much in favor that they should receive, or since they are
no longer here, we should receive an honest day's pay for them.
I am a big fan of reparations because everybody else in America
has been screwed over, got reparations except blacks and Indians.
I think it is time we moved on that one too. Someone is
going to say, Nikki, what are they going to do with the money?'
None of your business. This is so basic.
we forget and we really need to be teaching the children is that
the slavers did not go to Africa to get the slaves as in you go
to Starbuck's to get coffee. The slavers went to Africa
to get the Africans, to make them slaves. And it is a big
difference. And these people because they always say, Oh,
the Africans didn't know what they were getting into. They
knew these people were unpleasant. You have people coming
in burning your village down, shooting the old people who can't
keep up, bayoneting the little babies. They knew these were
not nice people. So they recognized something is not working here.
And yet as we force-march them to the coast. As we march
them down in Glory Island, as we march them underneath in Cape
Coast Castle, as we put these people and pack them into holding
pins and these cells. They knew this is not a good idea
but they were a free people and we have to recognize that.
as we finally take them out from these dungeons and we put them
on rowboats and we start to row them out, they could look back.
you see? -- and they could see Africa, they could see the land
they lived, they could see something they understood. I
don't know why, I have always been amazed, that people say Africans
can't swim? I mean they never think that Africans jumped
overboard and swim. Of course they can swim; they live next
to an ocean. Some of them were shocked and some of them
weren't. But nonetheless, those who were unable to jump
over were taken out to ships and they were going to sail.
the ship pulls out, they can still look back for a second or third
day; they can look back and see the land. When we get to
the fourth and fifth day, they can no longer see the land.
But they can see the heat. I always remind people if you
only have one way to go to Africa, please let it be by water.
If you are coming from say Gibraltar into Africa you will see
the heat before you see the land. It is totally fascinating.
Just totally fascinating.
you get over into that eighth to tenth day, what you are doing
is looking back but you can't see the land, you can't see the
heat, but you can see the clouds. And clouds over land are
different from clouds over water. So I am saying the Africans
still knew where they were. And we know because the ship's
captains kept records. We know that what the ship's captains
considered the most dangerous period was going to be somewhere
between that tenth and twelfth day where they could not see the
land nor the heat nor the clouds. And so they knew they
had to move quickly because all of sudden they know they will
not know where they are. Some did. Some didn't.
Some embraced the waters and died. Some didn't.
as we move from that period we are now finding ourselves in the
middle of middle passage as it were. They not only cannot
look back, they have no idea which way back might be. And
this is where these people, who I think are a fantastic people,
these are a brave people, these are a courageous people, and to
some degree which you have to love them for, these are people
being driven by a curiosity, a I wonder what is next. We
ultimately sing a song that says,' I made my vow to the Lord that
I never would turn back. I will go, I shall go to see what
the end may be. These people made a decision and nobody
wants to give them credit for a decision. They made a decision
in the middle of that water to be humane and to be human, to hold
on to something because they can, did it ever occur to you how
did these people come to the shores sane? People have had
a lot less stress that have been out of their minds.
came to these shores. They were then stood on auction blocks,
and I always hate slave auctions because they are always in these
cute little colonial outfits and the people who are buying them
are always standing back, being very gentlemanly. The reality
of a slave auction is you are standing there naked and a bunch
of guys are coming and they are putting their hands on you or
in you or wherever else they want to while they decide if they
are going to buy you. They then, someone purchases you and
then takes a branding iron and they brand you. They then
force-march you to a plantation where you are stuck with a bunch
of people you don't know.
have always been amazed that America, because America is really
a trip, how dare they talk about the black family when after all
that we made a family. We found a way to come together.
We made a community. We found a way to raise a song.
The black people have been a courageous and a wonderful people.
Those people who found a way through all of that trial and tribulation,
knowing that the land that they were in fact working was never
going to be theirs to share. It was crop but there was no
sharing to it. Knowing that the children that were bearing
were going to be sold out. How do you continue to go forward
and find a way to praise a god and find a way to be glad and find
a way to sing a song that says,' I got a crown up in the heavens'?
Ain't that good news?
are a great people. We are going to have to change the way
we look at those people if we want to be able to go into space
because what ever else they did, they showed us human beings can
exist in a space without any possibility of a good thing coming
from them and still maintain themselves. And that is the
future of the world. We will not go forward until we look
at the beauty and the wonder of those people.
wrote a poem called Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We're going to
are going to Mars for the same reason Marco Polo rocketed to China,
the same reason Columbus trimmed his sails on a dream of spices,
the very same reason Shackleton was enchanted with penguins,
the reason we fall in love,
is the only adventure.
are going to Mars because Perry could not go to the North Pole
without Matthew Henson,
Chicago could not be a city without a Jean Baptiste du Sable,
George Washington Carver and his peanut were the right partners
for Booker T.
is a life-seeking thing.
are going to Mars because whatever is wrong with us will not get
right with us so we journey forward, carrying the same baggage
every now and then leaving one little bitty thing behind: maybe
drop torturing Hunchbacks here, maybe drop lynching Billy Budd
there, maybe not whipping Uncle Tom to death, maybe resisting
day looking for prejudice to slip,
day looking for hatred to tumble down the waste side,
day maybe the whole community will no longer be vested in who
sleeps with whom.
one day the Jewish community will be at rest, the Christian community
will be content, the Muslim community will be at peace
all the rest of us will get great meals at holy days and learn
new songs and sing in harmony.
are going to Mars because it gives us a reason to change.
Mars came here it would be ugly.
would ban together to hunt down and kill Martians
then the stupid, undeserving life forms that we are, we would
also hunt down and kill what would be termed Martian sympathizers,
if the fugitive slave law was not bad enough then, as if the so-called
war on terrorism is not pitiful now.
do we learn and what does it take to teach us?
cannot be what we want, when we want, as we want
people have ideas and inputs and why won't they leave rat brown
future is ours to take.
are going to Mars because we have the hardware to do it:
have the rockets, and the fuel, and the money, and the stuff
the only reason NASA is holding back is they don't know if what
they send out will be what they get back.
let me slow this thing down.
is one year of travel to get there, plus one year of living on
Mars, plus one year to return to Earth
three years of earthlings being in a tight space, going to an
unknown place, with an unsure welcome awaiting them.
muscles, unknown and unusual foods, harsh conditions and no known
landmarks to keep them human only a hope and a prayer that they
will be shadowed beneath the benign hand and there is no historical
precedent for that except this:
trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans, I
trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans.
people who were captured and enslaved immediately recognized the
men who chained and whipped them and herded them into ships so
tightly packed there was no room to turn, no privacy to respect,
no tears to fall without landing on another.
not kind and gentle and concerned for the state of their souls,
men with whips and chains were understood to be killers, feared
to be cannibals, known to be sexual predators
captured knew they were in trouble in an unknown place without
communicable abilities, with a violent and capricious species
they could look out and still see signs of home
could still smell the sweetness in the air, they could see the
clouds floating above the land the loved, but they reached a point
where the captured could not only not look back, they had no idea
which way back might be.
was nothing in the middle of the deep blue water to indicate which
way home might be
it was that moment when that decision had to be made: do they
continue forward with the resolve to see this thing through or
do they embrace the waters and find another world?
the belly of the ship a moan was heard and someone picked up that
moan and a song was raised
that song would offer comfort and hope and tell the story.
we go to Mars it is the same thing, it is middle passage
the rocket red glares, the astronauts will be able to see themselves
pull away from Earth
the ship goes deeper they will see a sparkle of blue.
then one day, not only will they not see Earth they won't know
which way to look
that is why NASA needs to call black America
need to ask us,
did you calm your fears?'
were you able to decide you were human even when everything said
you were not?'
did you find the comfort in the face of the improbable to make
the world you came to your world?'
was your soul able to look back and wonder?'
we will tell them what to do to successfully go to Mars and back.
will need a song.
some Billy Holliday for the sad days and some Charlie Parker for
the happy ones,
always keep at least one good spiritual for comfort.
will need a slice or two of meat loaf and if you can manage it,
some fried chicken in a shoebox with nice moist lemon cake,
bottle of beer because no one should go that far without a beer
maybe a six pack so that if there is life on Mars you can share,
for the celebration when you land, while you wait on your land
legs to kick in.
as you climb down the ladder from your spaceship to the Martian
surface, look to your left and there you will see a smiling community
quilting a black-eyed pee, watching you descend.
know if Martin Luther King had not been assassinated he would
only be 76 years old and the Smithsonian is having a retrospective,
which is now part of the permanent retrospective- it is kind of
in the spirit of Martin. Just as a matter of housekeeping,
everybody involved in that gave it because it was a labor of love
and no one would accept any compensation for it because we felt,
all of us that Martin had given his full measure and we should
at least give what we have. The guy who curated it is called
Gary Caseman, and Gary called me because I have written a lot
about Martin and he wanted to reprint a poem. But I did
know the Smithsonian started a long way away and I am saying this
for the writers in the room, you are always revisiting the subject.
It is not like I write a poem about Martin; you continue to do
it because what you think when you are 26 years old and what you
think when you are 40 is really different from what you think
when you are 60. So I said, how long before you actually
need it for the book?' and he said it would be about a year so
I decided, of course, to write another one.
I wanted to do with this particular poem was one, put him in his
time because it so easy to forget what a pissy little period the
50s were. But I am sure if Martin were with us today, he
would have braids and I am totally convinced of that. First
of all, he was cute. I don't know if we could get him to
go blonde but definitely braids, don't you think? I know
what you are thinking, why wouldn't he have dreads?' Because
he was anal retentive and dreads go where they want to go.
And so he is going to have braids because he can at least control
that. I am sure that Martin would have a tattoo because
everybody has a tattoo. I have a tattoo. And
I am sure that Martin's tattoo would be something like vote' or
freedom now' because he was responsible. My tattoo says
thug life' in mourning for Tupac.
know that to be aware that the first person to be arrested for
civil disobedience is a man named Henry David Thoreau and Thoreau
had a friend named Ralph Emerson and I do think it is fair to
say that Emerson was a bit of tight ass. You never heard
anyone say oh if I could have a drink with anybody it would be
with Ralph Emerson. No one wants to hear that. You
would have a drink with Thoreau. Emerson, I guess doing
his Christian duty, went to see about him and called Thoreau,
David, and went to see him in jail. And he said to him,
David, what are you doing in jail?' And Thoreau looked at
him and said, Ralph what are you doing out?' He was absolutely
right because for those of us following the track of the Civil
Rights movement you know that as we moved out, of course, Montgomery
you are going to ultimately move a bunch into Washington and into
Birmingham. And when Martin and the SCLC moved into Birmingham,
the founding fathers of Birmingham- the religious father- they
took a big ad out and they said,' what are you doing in our city,
troubling these waters?' And of course Martin responded
in one of the great documents of American history, Letter from
a Birmingham City Jail, why aren't you here with us? Where is
your Christian witness?' And Martin was right to lay it
back on them.
wrote a poem for Martin Luther King, Jr. because Martin Luther
King was a great man and I think it is good that America honors
him and honors his birthday and it is good that we can honor several
more great men. I wrote a poem in the spirit of Martin.
is a sacred poem.
has been shed to consecrate it.
your hands, remove your shoes, bow your head
I, I have a dream.
was a magical time.
ho silver away
Cisco, Oh Poncho
I come to save the day.
want the world to see what they did to my son
no, no I am not going to move.
we are wrong then the Constitution of the United States is wrong
threats, constant harassment, constant fear
Ralph and Martin
it to Beaver, Ed Sullivan.
long? Not long
what Mr. Thoreau said to Mr. Emerson
are you doing out?"
is a Letter from Birmingham City Jail, this is a eulogy for Albany,
this is a water hose for Anniston, this is a thank you to Diane
Nash, this is a flag for James Farmer, this is a how can I make
it without you to Ella Baker, this is for the red clay of Georgia
that yielded black men of courage, black men of vision, black
men of hopes bent over cotton or sweet potatoes or pool halls
and baseball diamonds, playing for a chance to live free and breathe
easy and have enough money to take care of the folk they love.
This is why we can't wait.
swirling Mississippi wind, the Alabama pine, that Tennessee dust
defiling the clothes the women washed, those hot winds the lemonade
could not cool that let the women know that we too must overcome.
is for Fannie Lou Hammer, Jo Ann Robinson, Septima Clark, Daisy
Bates: all the women who said, Baby, baby, baby, I know you didn't
mean to lose your job. I know you didn't mean to gamble
the rent money. I know you didn't mean to hit me. I know
the Lord is going to make a way. I know I am leaning on
the everlasting arms.
much pressure does the Earth exert on carbon to make a diamond?
How long does the soil push against the flesh molding, molding,
molding the moan that becomes a cry that bursts forth crystalline,
unbreakable, priceless, and comparable?
I made my vow to the Lord that I would never turn back.
much pressure do the sins of the world press against the heart
of a man who becomes the voice of his people? He should
have had a tattoo, you know, freedom now' or something like that;
should have braided his hair; carried his pool cue in a mahogany
case; wafted that wonderful laugh over a plate of skillet-fried
chicken, dropped biscuits, dandelion greens on the side.
is a sacred poem. Open your arms, turn your palms up, feel
the spirit of greatness, and be redeemed.
have got to tell you something. Not major but nonetheless,
Oprah does not like me. It is mutual. You know how
she is always doing these shows with like best friends and her
best friend is always Gail and have you noticed that, but is always
the same one and after all these years of doing best friends,
she has never had another best friend. I am not friendly
and I can produce three different people. That is the truth.
I get this call-my mother likes to sneaks and watch the show-
I get this call from Gail King one day and she says, We are doing
the body and we would like you to write something for us.
So I went-- my mother lives down the street from me and I went
down to mommy's and I said, Oh, I got a call from Gail King, Oprah's
friend. And she says, Yes, Oprah's best friend' because
she watches her show. I think she is sneaking and watching
the show. I said, You know, Oprah does not like me.
And she says, Oh baby, that is not true. They like you.
But they don't and it is mutual.
I said, Mom, I know what is going to happen. I am going to work
on this poem and I am going to send it in and I am going to get
it back and ‘reject' is going to be stamped all over and little
note, ‘rejected… Oprah'. My mother is a believer.
She says, Oh no baby, they are going to publish your poem.
I said, They are not. She says, They are. Well as it turned out,
they did and so my sister went out and got her the Oprah magazine.
She said, See, they published your poem. It told you they
like you. But they don't and it is mutual. You have
to know who doesn't like you no matter what your mother says.
I just thought a piece of good advice.
wrote a poem. It is called 'The Song of the Feet', which
actually did get published.
is appropriate that I sing
song of the feet
weight of the body
what the body chooses to bear
trampled the American wilderness
the mob in Tulsa
caught in Philadelphia
am still unreparated
soldiered on in Korea
out Desert Storm
my way through Afghanistan
the World Trade Center
on the worst day of my life
embracing Sister Betty
wriggle my toes
the sands of time
the touch that controls my motion
in the warmth of the embrace
end offers with warm salty water.
is appropriate I sing
praise of the feet
am a Black woman.
was born in the Congo
walked to the Fertile Crescent and built the Sphinx
designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every
one hundred years falls into the center giving divine, perfect
settle on the throne drinking nectar with Allah
got hot and sent an ice age to Europe to cool my thirst
oldest daughter is Nefertiti
tears from my birth pains created the Nile
am a beautiful woman.
gazed on the forest and burned out the Sahara desert with a packet
of goat's meat and a change of clothes
crossed it in two hours
am a gazelle so swift, so swift you can't catch me
a birthday present when he was three
gave my son, Hannibal, an elephant
gave me Rome for mother's day
strength flows ever on
son Noah built new ark and
stood proudly at the helm as we sailed on a soft summer day
turned myself into myself and was Jesus
intone my loving name
praises All praises
am the one who would save
sowed diamonds in my back yard
bowels deliver uranium
filings from my fingernails are semi-precious jewels
a trip north
caught a cold and blew my nose, giving oil to the Arab world
am so hip even my errors are correct
sailed west to reach east and had to round off the earth as I
hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents
am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
cannot be comprehended except by my permission
mean...I...can fly like a bird in the sky.