Nikki Giovanni: The Laws of Motion

The best poems are those that work on multiple levels. The best poems provide the reader with a relatively straightforward scene or a story yet have an undercurrent of something much deeper; a glimpse at the things that connect us or drive us apart—our fears, hopes, desires.

Nikki Giovanni strikes that balance in “The Laws of Motion.”  At once its a look at how the language and laws define our world around us while at the same time reveling that those same words and facts only hint at the world we live in. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the language of science and of human relationships; the complexity of both serving to explain and confuse the issue.

The Laws of Motion

(for Harlem Magic)
The laws of science teach us a pound of gold weighs as
 much as a pound of flour though if dropped from any
 undetermined height in their natural state one would
 reach bottom and one would fly away
Laws of motion tell us an inert object is more difficult to
 propel than an object heading in the wrong direction is to
 turn around. Motion being energy—inertia—apathy.
 Apathy equals hostility. Hostility—violence. Violence
 being energy is its own virtue. Laws of motion teach us
Black people are no less confused because of our
 Blackness than we are diffused because of our
 powerlessness. Man we are told is the only animal who
 smiles with his lips. The eyes however are the mirror of
 the soul
The problem with love is not what we feel but what we
 wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
 something. Just as publicity is not production: seduction
 is not seductive
If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all
 the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
 says but knowledge is power. Any desirable object is
 bought and sold—any neglected object declines in value.
 It is against man’s nature to be in either category
If white defines Black and good defines evil then men
 define women or women scientifically speaking describe
 men. If sweet is the opposite of sour and heat the
 absence of cold then love is the contradiction of pain and
 beauty is in the eye of the beheld
Sometimes I want to touch you and be touched in
 return. But you think I’m grabbing and I think you’re
 shirking and Mama always said to look out for men like
 you
So I go to the streets with my lips painted red and my
 eyes carefully shielded to seduce the world my reluctant
 lover
And you go to your men slapping fives feeling good
 posing as a man because you know as long as you sit
 very very still the laws of motion will be in effect

Curious about all the other April poems? Check out the super awesome first National Poetry Month post for a complete list!

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