Poet Nicole Goodwin performs a selection from her first book of poetry based on a former high-stakes day job. As Nicole shares with us in her interview, “Art must align itself with struggle because it tells the human story in a myriad of ways, whether it’s political or personal.” Videos of her episode performances are forthcoming.
Since the recording of this episode, Nicole shared with us the following powerful poems written during the initial wave of protests against the police brutality responsible for the tragic murder of George Floyd. Also below is a COVID-19 series covering how she and her 17-year old daughter have been coping with the pandemic while staying in their Harlem apartment.
Poem Series on George Floyd
He Called for His Mama
Today, I am too tired to be angry.
I am so tired of the blood of our
Brothers and sisters, being spilt
In this land of the free.
Racism has robbed me of my eloquence,
And replaced my vociferousness with a
I am a bird whose wings are clipped;
I am a cat whose been declawed,
A tiger once. Now defanged.
Willing to beg no man for freedom,
I am on my knees now—again.
Clawing at the heavens with wretched hands
“Will you not grant us justice?”
I read that his last words were cries for his mama,
Say his name—I cannot.
Say his name—I cannot.
Say his name—I cannot!
For I am out of breath, air stolen from my lungs
As if a foot were upon my chest.
And I am crying out to the world,
Will no one strike these bastards down!
On God, who is holy—where is your pity for us?
“I’ll stand for nothing less, or never stand again.” – Chevelle
These deaths are not the cause
Of a few bad apples; it is a rot
In the hearts of men with pale faces and
Skin, and ideals that make them
Believe that our lives are less than
That of dogs; brutal in the fact that
It is soaking Black and Brown men and
Women in our own blood.
Yet the worst of it, the worst of it
Is the silence—the necessity for those of
White skin to never speak upon the deaths
Of us. Whether through the disease in the air
Or the heir of callousness. They are all bullets,
Strangles, are all lynchings in this modern
I am enraged to the core of my soul.
Tears burn their ways down my cheeks.
I am choked with by the bitterness in my
“Is everything ok ma? Are you in a mood?”
“Cops murdered a man in Minneapolis, then turned
Water hoses on the people protesting.”
“I’m sorry ma, do you need a hug?”
My daughter whose skin is soft and warm,
Takes me into her arms. And just like that
I am talked down from the edge.
Mike Tyson says: “You have to sacrifice happiness to be successful”
“Now those days are gone and it’s just empty.”
I am awakened from a deep sleep.
And I realize how much since the days (?), years (?)
Have passed, since this lockdown (New York City),
since this private journey (Harlem)
Since the lines on my face, and the little grey hairs, and
The tiny black chin whiskers, that I miss midnight matinees the most.
Like the ones I saw when I was young(er).
I miss them NOW—in the way, I missed them then;
the little things in the desert.
I miss a cool dark place to hide from the sun,
With artificial lightening and a story to tell. Of viruses, of wars
Of humanity on the brink. Of robots with human souls. Those black and whites
That thrilled me into thinking that we had a future. Together.
But when I saw the pics of Commodore Park,
In Williamsburg, in the new gentrified Brooklyn—of
the white people laughing and smiling
And enjoying the sunlight, (breaking quarantine)
I felt like the way I did as a Black kid watching The Jetsons.
I was looking on the bright side, another moment in the future
with US written out of it.
Growing up in the time of Corona
I worry about a daughter who worries about her mother.
Who jokes about her voice cracking rather than sing aloud
In tones that make a tear drop slowly from the eye of who
She calls mater, for kicks.
I suppose if I were better at living, she would worry less.
But then again who would I be, who shaped her in the first place.
Would I be the same?
Stop this nonsense. These are questions that God has no regard in
Answering to you.
I watch my gurl grow up. In a time of crisis.
This so too, for when she was born a war broke.
I was a solider then, and therefore I was not there.
To see her wash her hands,
The first time. Maybe the first of many.
Who knew the heavens would regurgitate the same mess.
Or was it, deep down that I had prayed for this?
For America to know its rottenness. The corroded core of its
Own soul. We raise our children to be nonchalant, to care only
When their sky has fallen.
But she is not like this. Most days she does cry—her tears like mine
Are invisible to many, or rather those that give more than a dime and
less than a damn.
If I were a braver woman, I’d be dancing naked
In the cold lonely street by now. It took hours,
But a car finally did drive by. And I am thinking
Of my 17-year-old daughter, and her lack of sleep.
What keeps her up at night, besides worry about me?
Written by Nicole Goodwin. All rights reserved 2020. Reprinted with love and admiration.
Nicole Goodwin Biography
Nicole Goodwin is the author of Warcries who also holds distinguished fellowships, including: The 2018-2019 Franklin Furnace Fund Recipient, the 2018 Ragdale Alice Judson Hayes Fellowship Recipient, 2017 EMERGENYC Hemispheric Institute Fellow, as well as the 2013- 2014 Queer Art Mentorship Queer Art Literary Fellow. She published the articles “Talking with My Daughter about My Service in Iraq” and “Why is this Happening in Your Life…” in The New York Times’ parent blog Motherlode. Additionally, her work ‘”Desert Flowers” was shortlisted and selected for performance by the Women’s Playwriting International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for the poem “Thou Art God,” which appeared in The Revolution in 2020.