On the occasion of the family moving out of doors—when
Uncle Bobby and friend came to visit

It was a family meeting under the singing pines in 1972.
The look-alike humans were breathing hard and moving
up the hill to their meeting spot. What would soon be said
would soon be lost to my ears for twenty years but never
leave the hippocampus of my eyes. Playing make-believe
wizard with my stick and watching the grown-ups move
into their heart-to-heart positions. My eyes at sea level
with Uncle Bobby, Black doll maker, who had flown south
from the continent of California, arriving arm in arm with
a shorter man with yellow doll hair. Daddy had banned
the children from what he had come all the way across
the world to tell us. Daddy had banned his new house
from breathing in his brother’s words. The new house
he had just built with three-inch insulation and a two-car
garage was not allowed to grapevine what Uncle Bobby
had come to say. Rule no. 7: Adults eat at one table and
children another until those children leave home and return
for Christmas break, wearing only Texas rattlesnake boots
and writhing Medusa hair, right after the color behind the
ear or beneath the fingernail has finally set into boy-loves-
girl-only, just after the skin underneath the nail has dried
into the permanent tattoo of girl-loves-boy-only. But Daddy
had never separated us like this before. With no man-made
roof to catch and ping-pong our laughter back into the other’s
mouth. We were moved to the out-of-doors. Handed over
and under to pine & wind. I had been sent to a different
room and sat at a different table. I knew the mighty ways
of resistance even then. Cupping my ear to the skin of the
door but I had never been sent outside to a different stand
of trees. This has nothing to do with you. Whatever Uncle
Bobby was about to say was dangerous enough to burn the
whole house down. An embering smell. A peppery taste.
A hot zinging tingle. Metal and match. The woods could
take it. Handle every flying spark. The new house would
never be given the chance. I was not allowed any closer to
Uncle Bobby’s words than the dirt where I stood, a small
square of sand where I kept my head down, drawing two
stick men with eight arms each holding more than each
other. One with doll hair. I knew other men like Uncle
Bobby but they never came in twos. One came with hands
in his pockets and wore sequins on his vest even when it
wasn’t Sunday. He was always at the welcome organ where
his fingers were free to lift & fly. Another came with
sparkling eyes and glitter dusted on his lashes, smiling
at me in the cafeteria while serving me extra cheese
& macaroni, but none ever came like this, arm in arm.
Daddy’s voice climbed then fell, his face looking for me
downwind, making sure I was far enough away from the
words that would soon land on the pines, making them
pop & smoke. The doll man with his play of yellow hair
never stopped smiling. Short & round as a sundial. Their
beards and eyes of different colors. Their three-letter
names moving like a nursery rhyme I was not allowed
to run across my tongue, Bob, Rob, Rob, Bob. I could
see Daddy’s eyes hunting me through the pines. This
can’t have anything to do with you
.

Copyright © 2020 by Nikky Finney. Published 2020 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Cover Art by Sarah Hussein

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Nikky Finney
Nikky Finney

"So—you can write pretty," Toni Cade Bambara tells the twenty-one-year-old Nikky Finney during a monthly writing circle that Bambara held in her Atlanta home during the 1980's. "But what else can your words do besides adorn?" This flat-footed question, put to the young poet by the great short story writer, at the beginning of her career, sets her sailing toward a life of aiming her words to do more than pearl and decorate the page. She follows the path, beyond adornment, that Bambara lived and taught—a writing life rooted in empathetic engagement and human reciprocity. Nikky Finney has been a faculty member at Cave Canem summer workshop for African American poets; a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a particular place for poets of color in Appalachia; poet and professor for twenty-three years at the University of Kentucky; and visiting professor at Berea and Smith Colleges. She won the PEN American Open Book Award in 1996 and the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts in South Carolina in 2016. She edited Black Poets Lean South, a Cave Canem anthology (2007) authored On Wings Made of Gauze (1985), Rice (1995), Heartwood (1997), The World Is Round (2003), and Head Off & Split, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry. Her acceptance speech has become a thing of legend, described by the 2011 NBA host, John Lithgow, as "the best acceptance speech ever–for anything." In her home state of South Carolina she involves herself in the day-to-day battles for truth and justice while also guiding both undergraduates and MFA students at the University of South Carolina where she is the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters, with appointments in both the Department of English Language and Literature and the African American Studies Program, which she proudly notes is forty-six years strong. Nikky Finney's work, in book form and video, including her now legendary acceptance speech, is on display in the inaugural exhibition of the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. You will find her in the poet's corner, directly across from Chuck Berry’s 1973 candy apple red Cadillac Eldorado. Finney's work includes the arenas of Black girl genius unrecognized, Black history misplaced and forgotten, and the stories of women who prefer to jump instead of ride the traditional tracks of polite and acceptable society. In her full body of poetry and storytelling, she explores the whispers and shouts of sexuality, the invisibility of poverty in a world continually smitten by the rich and the powerful, the graciousness of Black family perseverance, the truth of history, the grace and necessity of memory, as well as the titanic loss of habitat for all things precious and wild.

The new decade is here and so is Nikky's new book. Love Child's Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (pub date April 15, 2020) is her first poetry collection since winning the National Book Award in 2011. In addition to the poems, there are hotbeds, a horticulture term introducing her readers to her journals, the place where most of her poems have always found their calcium and strong knees. There are also artifacts, images and photographs, that assist the words in composing how the poet's poet-life came to be. Over the last 30 years each and every Nikky Finney book has always been wonderfully different but this long awaited new minglement of word and image crafts a new kind of American poesy.

Visit Nikky's Press Kit Page for high-resolution photos & more.

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