Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Stuff That Girl Power Is Made Of (I Mean... I... Can Fly Like A Bird In The Sky...)

My parents didn’t really read books to my brother and I when we were little; I don’t know if it’s because they were too busy, or didn’t feel like being bothered, or if it was just something their generation didn’t do. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get hyped on books until I was able to get myself to the library—that magical, beautiful building where there were books a plenty, each waiting to take my imagination places I couldn’t conjure up all on my own. I was a huge Beverly Cleary fan, and Judy Blume could do no wrong, and I literally wore out the pages of my favorite Frances Hodgson Burnett books—“The Secret Garden,” and “The Little Princess.”

I never considered that none of the characters in those books didn’t look like me; they were fantastic stories that made me laugh out loud and wonder. They were my friends.

Still, when I had my Mari, I knew that I had to do better by her—that I needed to surround her not only with stories and music that spoke directly to my little brown baby, but to stretch and bend and reach for material that moved beyond the obvious. Sure, I adored reading books by authors like Andrea Pinkney and Ezra Jack Keats and Vera B. Williams, each of whom made clear that stories featuring children of color mattered and were meaningful and lovely. But I was trying to raise a baby who would love listening to opera (Kathleen Battle’s “So Many Stars”) and jazz (Tony Bennett’s “Playground” and Louis Armstrong’s “Disney Songs The Satchmo Way”) as much as she did the Teletubbies and Elmo, and who wouldn’t be afraid to raise a fist in the air when it came time to rep being a beautiful, strong, smart little black girl. So she might catch a little Alice Walker up in the glider, or a word or two of Toni Morrison whispered in her ear while she dreamed in her crib. I adored reading poetry to her most of all—particularly anything by Nikki Giovanni, long a hero of mine. For her audacity. For her fearlessness. For her straight up love and dedication to the African diaspora. Her poem, “Ego Trippin,” was—and still is—a staple. It’s girl power at its finest.

Today, I could use a little girl power to get me through.

Maybe you can, too.


Ego Trippin (there may be a reason why)
By Nikki Giovanni

I was born in the Congo
I walked to the Fertile Crescent and built the Sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every one hundred years falls into the center giving divine perfect light.
I am bad.

I sat on the throne drinking nectar with Allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe to cool my thirst.

My oldest daughter is Nefertiti
The tears from my birth pains created the Nile
I am a beautiful woman.

I gazed upon the forest and burned out the Sahara desert
With a packet of goat's meat and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift--so swift--you can't catch me.

For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son Hannibal an elephant
He gave me Rome for Mother's Day
My strength flows ever on

My son Noah built a new ark and
I stood proudly at the helm as we sailed on a soft summer day

I turned myself into my self and was Jesus
Men intone my loving name
All praise, all praise
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels delivered uranium
The fillings from my fingernails are
semi-precious jewels

Once on a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
my nose, giving oil to the Arab world
I am so hip my errors are correct.

I sailed west to reach east and had to round off the Earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents.

I am so perfect,
so divine
so ethereal
so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean....I....can fly
Like a bird in the sky....

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  1. Saw your comment on my guest post on Stesha’s Hot Chocolate Caramel Mocha blog last week. Thought it would be fun to stop by and check out your site. So glad that I did too. You’ve are an amazing writer...incredibly inspirational.


  2. Nikki, is by far one of my favorite poets. My mom never read to me either, but I was determined to read to my brown baby girl. :)
    I truly enjoy visiting here daily. It feels like home!

  3. She is the reason why I write to this day:)along with Sonia Sanchez and the great Langston Hughes!


  4. "Ego Trippin" is one of my all time favorite poems! Thank God for great writers ... y'all are something special.

  5. My mom never read to me either, although I do remember being surrounded by books. And I agree, back in the Judy Blume could do no wrong. Didn't matter to me if her characters were not black because the feelings of teenage akwardness were the same. Thanks so much for sharing this amazing poem. I seriously need to check this poet out.

  6. I enjoy coming to your blog because it's always a place to feel inspired. Thank you!

  7. Oh my you can't imagine how timely this is. I just returned from the Congo where I did a story about a little beautiful girl I met named Belice. Belice was raped by government soldiers. I love her so much. She is 9.
    I'm in the process of making a show about her life. There are a few teaser photos on my blog of Belice. I have a dream of going back to mentor her or (would she mentor me). Belice's greatest desire is to go got school and to dance!
    Sorry I wrote so much I just got so excited! Today is my birthday so I'm off the computer to go enjoy. Please come visit and learn about Belice. You have to scroll down and see December

  8. I love Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez. They along with Langston Hughes are my favorite poets. I try to expose my kids to their work as much as possible.

  9. Came across your site by accident or by fate..nontheless loving every bit of it! How can i get a my brown baby button?:)

  10. Hey there, Miss Meerah,

    I'm absolutely delighted that you're digging MyBrownBaby, and I certainly hope you come and visit again and again. Ours is a warm, inviting community that thrives with readers like you; kick off your shoes, relax, and enjoy!

    The MyBrownBaby button is to the left of this column; just copy the code and post.


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