second daughter’s second day on earth
My birth certificate says: Female Negro
Mother: Mary Anne Irby, 22, Negro
Father: Jack Austin Woodson, 25, Negro
In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr.
is planning a march on Washington, where
John F. Kennedy is president.
In Harlem, Malcolm X is standing on a soapbox
talking about a revolution.
Outside the window of University Hospital,
snow is slowly falling. So much already
covers this vast Ohio ground.
In Montgomery, only seven years have passed
since Rosa Parks refused
to give up
her seat on a city bus.
I am born brown-skinned, black-haired
I am born Negro here and Colored there
and somewhere else,
the Freedom Singers have linked arms,
their protests rising into song:
Deep in my heart, I do believe
that we shall overcome someday.
and somewhere else, James Baldwin
is writing about injustice, each novel,
each essay, changing the world.
I do not yet know who I’ll be
what I’ll say
how I’ll say it . . .
Not even three years have passed since a brown girl
named Ruby Bridges
walked into an all-white school.
Armed guards surrounded her while hundreds
of white people spat and called her names.
She was six years old.
I do not know if I’ll be strong like Ruby.
I do not know what the world will look like
when I am finally able to walk, speak, write . . .
the nurse says to my mother.
Already, I am being named for this place.
Ohio. The Buckeye State.
My fingers curl into fists, automatically
This is the way, my mother said,
of every baby’s hand.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm’s—raised and fisted
or Martin’s—open and asking
or James’s—curled around a pen.
I do not know if these hands will be
and fiercely folded
calmly in a lap,
on a desk,
around a book,
To change the world