Nikki Giovanni is one of the best-known African-American poets who reached prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her unique and insightful poetry testifies to her own evolving awareness and experiences: from child to young woman, from naive college freshman to seasoned civil rights activist, from daughter to mother. 

Here is one of her poignantly thoughtful poems, Choices.


if i can’t do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don’t want
to do

it’s not the same thing
but it’s the best i can

if i can’t have
what i want … then
my job is to want
what i’ve got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more to want

since i can’t go
where i need
to go … then i must … go
where the signs point
through always understanding
parallel movement
isn’t lateral

when i can’t express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal

i know
but that’s why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry

There is a fantastic analysis on this poem. It says that the poem has a double meaning. It has to do with the choices one makes, but it also talks about the thing or choices that the individual believes they should have that they do not. Just because a person wants something they may not get it. They have to make a choice between things that they may not have wanted to make a choice between to begin with. It is about settling to things because they may not have other options. The human races ability to make choices gives them another element of emotion that other species may not experience, this is why they cry, and this is what breaks us down.In the first stanza it is say if I cannot do what I want then I should not be doing what I do not want to do. Basically, if people are not presented with the ability to make the choice they want, then they should not be forced to do what they do not want to. The second stanza ties in with the first saying, these two things are not the same, but they are better than being forced to do what they do not want.

The third stanza goes on to say if I cannot have what I want then I should be satisfied with what I’ve got at least there is still something to want. Meaning, even though people do not get what they want, they should want and be happy with what they have, because things could be worse. They could have less or not have anything at all. It also saying at least there is more to want, saying that at least they are not on the other end of the spectrum. There one would have nothing else to look forward and work towards; for they have everything they could want, leaving them feeling almost empty.

The fourth stanza is saying since one cannot go where they want then they have to go where they are told by the signs. This is trying to hint at unfairness. When someone cannot go where they want, when they are blocked from it, they have to go where they are told or allowed to go. Even though it is not fair it is what they have to do if they do not want to get in trouble.

Nikki Giovanni wrote mainly to women, about women’s rights. She also strongly stood for civil rights. Each stanza, or part of this poem, relates to how unfairly women, different races, and more specifically, women from different races are treated.

The poem goes on to say, since one cannot go where they want then they have to go where they are told by the signs.

So I say follow your signs no matter how long or far because what you’re looking for is also looking for you 💙.


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I'm a woman living in London and this blog captures what lands within my sight and connects with my psyche. I expect it to evolve naturally. It is a place I shall visit from time to time and where things that I am touched by deeply will find a soft place to land. As a psychotherapist and a continuing student, most of the articles you shall find here will somehow, in some way, be related to therapy and well-being. I love comments, so feel free to add yours, whenever and however. I wish you well.

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