“Nikki-Rosa,” a short, introspective poem of thirty lines, dispenses with the conventional marks of written poetry—punctuation and capitalization—creating the effect of the narrator speaking directly to her audience. The title, “Nikki-Rosa,” suggests the merging of the personal life with the public or political one and indicates the evolution of a radical, from the girl Nikki to the militant Rosa, the name alluding to Rosa Parks, a Civil Rights activist.
In the poem, a black narrator addresses a black audience, assuming a store of shared experiences, experiences that would be foreign to a white middle-class audience. The narrator—a woman, as indicated by the title—realizes that her childhood contained a mixture of good and bad events. Nevertheless, the negative memories, caused by poverty, are outweighed by the positive, provided by a strong, close family. Unfortunately, “they,” the critics and biographers, will record the lack of an “inside toilet” but will fail to mention the warm baths given in “one of those/ big tubs that folk in Chicago barbecue in.” The critics will “never talk about how happy you were to have your mother/ all to yourself.” The narrator fears that the simple pleasures of her childhood will be overlooked.
The poem juxtaposes the events of the narrator’s youth with future biographers’ misreading or misinterpretation. The biographers will mention her father’s drinking and her parents’ fighting but miss the closeness of the extended family. They will not see “that everybody is together and you/ and your sister have happy birthdays and very good christmasses.” The biographers will notice the poverty but not the richness of the strong, supportive family. They will not understand that “Black love is Black wealth.” Because of this blindness, the narrator hopes that “no white person ever has cause to write about me.” The white critics would note the hardships but miss the love: “they’ll/ probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that/ all the while I was quite happy.”