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!