copyright ?1998 by Nikki Grimes
published by Dial Books for Young Readers
A Member of Penguin Putnam Inc.
- excerpt (pages 14-25)FOR SALE
I pass the used-goods store
the bronzed baby shoes
useless and dusty
in the window.
to sell such things,
But it feels wrong
It must drive God crazy to see how much we take for granted. My friend Jabari is a great example. This afternoon his grandmother left Wilson?s Drugstore, grinning, and hurried across the Avenue clutching a large envelope. She stopped in front of The Garden to catch her breath, and waved me over while she rested. ?Looka here,? she said, slipping an 8 x 10 glossy from the envelope. It was a photo from Jabari?s prom.
?That?s my grandbaby!? she said, proud as the First Lady, going on about how clever she knew he was, and how he got his brains from her side of the family, and how she planned on framing his diploma?in silver, no less. Man! You?d think he had graduated from Harvard, instead of being on his way to high school along with the rest of us. Then again he might be the first in his family to make it so far. Whether he is or not, I suppose his grandmother has the right to brag.
I smiled politely and said, yes, Jabari did look mighty handsome in that fine suit. Which is right about when she dug out her wallet and rewarded my good manners by showing me an old photograph of Jabari, scooting, bare-bottomed, across a baby blanket.
"He always was the cutest thing," she cooed.
All I could think was, Poor Jabari
! What?s this thing grown-ups have about showing off embarrassing pictures of naked babies? I don?t know. I couldn?t keep from laughing, though. After all, this is the guy I sometimes meet on the basketball court after school, for a game of one-on-one. Now, thanks to seeing that photo, I?ll never be able to look at his sweaty, muscled, six-foot frame quite the same again. And it didn?t help that Jabari showed up while tears of laughter were still streaming down my cheeks.
Can?t much blame him for snatching that wallet right out of his grandma?s hands. I?d have done the same. But, trust me: Jabari ought to be counting his blessings. There are no photos of me as a baby, carefully pasted in a family album. No sweet portrait on a mantel beside a pair of bronzed baby shoes. There are no Kodak memories of my
third birthday party, face happily smeared with cake frosting, or strawberry ice cream. There are no wallet-size proofs of my existence at the age of eight. Or nine. Or ten. I wish there were.
Some foster homes are pretty okay, but you can?t have pictures if you barely live with folks long enough to learn their address. They?ve got no reason to take them. Of course, it?s different now that I?m with CeCe. She takes lots of pictures, pictures of me, of me with my friends Destinee and Sophie, pictures of CeCe and me together. In fact, she?s gone a little picture crazy, if you ask me. Still, it?s hard to keep track of a little thing like a photograph when you?re constantly moving. Stuff gets left behind. No one can help that. Not even CeCe.
So I?m not taking any chances. These words, these notes are gonna be my photographs of me. Of who I am, and what I do, and what my life is like. Here. Now.
Someday I?ll look at this photograph of me, and Jabari, and his oh-so-proud grandmother, and I?ll grin. The way I?m grinning now.MAY 29
I?ve got mixed feelings about UFOs and aliens, but I?ve had a number of close encounters in my life, and I know I?m not the first. There?s this lady I call Sister Church, because I see her on the way from one each Sunday and I?ve noticed the secret sparkle she has in her eye, as if she?s seen or heard something that no one else has. She high-stepped down the Avenue earlier today, uniformed in white to match the other women of New Jerusalem Sanctuary of the Redeemed, over on St. Nicholas. White straw hat, white cotton gloves clutched in her hand, blazing white short-sleeve dress, white bag, and white shoes. You know, those flat, orthopedic-looking numbers. Nurse?s shoes maybe. Either way, they gleamed like snow.
I?m not exactly sure what white has to do with God. I understand the connection with purity, of course. Ivory soap, 99 and 44/100 % pure, etcetera. Fine. I get it. Still, when I look at the world God made, I get the distinct impression that He?s partial to color. Sister Church does look good in white, though. Cool, too, on this warm May day.
Shawna was on the stoop with me when Sister Church danced by, high on the spirit, bubbling over with what CeCe calls ?the zeal of the Lord.?
?Good afternoon,? she greeted, mopping her brow with a lace kerchief. White, of course. ?How y?all young folks doin? today??
?Fine,? I said, answering for both of us. Shawna was too busy snickering to be polite.
?I believe the Good Lord gave me a message for you this mornin?. He spoke to me. Yes, He did. He said, ?I have given angels charge over thee.? ? Her words sent a tingle up my spine, but Shawna just rolled her eyes. ?Lady, you must be hearin? voices again, ?cause ain?t no God tell you nothin?. If there is a God,? she added, rubbing her swollen belly. The small life inside gave her a walloping kick.
Good, I thought. Serves you right. Then I remembered what CeCe says: Be patient with people. We all believe what we know, or what we can, or what we want to.
Believing in close encounters of the spiritual kind comes easily to me, partly because CeCe was born with second sight, and I?ve been hearing about visions and prophetic dreams all my life, and partly because I?ve met and talked to angels on more than one occasion, and found their presence so matter-of-fact that I assumed other people saw them too. I?ve learned not to talk about such things. I don?t enjoy being laughed at.
Still, there?s a lot that happens in this life that people can?t explain. Like why CeCe could be in Jersey, and I could be in Ossining, New York, and every time she gets a stomachache, I do too. Or what happened the time CeCe and I were in that foster home on Long Island and ran away because the woman beat us.
I was three years old then, but I remember how we skipped down the street so no one would notice we were leaving. And how, once we turned the corner, our feet flew. The next thing I knew, we were inside of Mom?s apartment in Manhattan, standing at the window, waving to her as she came home. Shocked to find us there, she raced upstairs, shoved her key in the door, and discovered that it was still locked. From the outside.
The trip itself was part of the mystery. There were no bus rides, no train rides that I remember. There was no passage of time. And once we reached Mom?s place, there was no standing outside the door, struggling for entrance. None of Mom?s neighbors saw us come in. No one gave us a key. And no one has an explanation for these things, except CeCe and me, and ours isn?t one Mom wants to hear.
Let?s just say angels were involved. Did we see them? No. But then, angels aren?t in the habit of showing themselves. Besides, even if we had, even if we could describe them from head to toe, no one was prepared to believe us. Least of all Mom. This kind of stuff gives her the chills, which is sad because the truth is better than any tale we could whip up. In the end she took comfort in dismissing our account, calling it the product of a child?s wild imagination, and deciding, unilaterally of course, that we were not to speak of ?the incident? again.
I?ve kept it stored away in memory, along with all the other unexplained phenomena I?ve felt, or seen, or heard. I?ve got this idea, see, that God is saving me for something, that He?s grooming me for a particular purpose in life, and all these spirit-world encounters are part of it somehow. If only I knew how the puzzle-pieces fit.
Shawna thinks I?m crazy for nursing this notion. Big surprise there! According to her, with the world being so big, and so desperately in need of help, what makes me think God has time to worry about saving me? For anything? Answers come hard, and Shawna?s simply looking for an argument. I decide to give her neither. Besides, it?s Sunday and I don?t want to lie, not even to myself.
I don?t know what God?s got planned for me. Or why Dad had to die. Or why Mom can?t quit drinking, or stay healthy, or figure out how to love me. I don?t understand why CeCe and me got stuck with a life full of way too much drama. But I know if I?ve got questions, there must be answers.
One of these days I?m going to run into God, in a dream maybe, or in a vision, and I?m going to lay out all my questions, one at a time, and get the answers I need. And while I?m at it, I think I?ll ask Him if there?s really any connection between angels and UFOs.JUNE 3
CeCe came to school today. Mr. Sanders, our principal, called her in to talk about dress codes. He didn?t like the African dress I wore this week, but his jaw really dropped when CeCe strode into his office, wrapped in yards of African fabric. Mr. Sanders forgot I was even there, he was so busy staring at her. He said something about how certain clothes can be a distraction in class, and then his voice trailed off.
CeCe eyed him for a minute, then said, ?The next time you call me in, it had better be because Jazmin has broken the law, or is flunking a class. Otherwise, don?t waste my time.?
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. I?d never watched anyone turn beet-red. Too bad I didn?t have a camera.CENTRAL PARK LESSON
Once, in Central Park
I slogged through
early morning mist
and grabbed a fistful
felt it lick
then slip away,
to the sky
and all I
was the image
in my mind.JUNE 10
It seems to me that ideas are like gossamer, or mist, fragile as a dream forgotten as soon as you awake. I guess that?s why they?re so hard to hold on to. But that?s also what makes them wonderful, and more than worth all the trouble.
I was in Central Park last Saturday when the idea for a poem sprinkled down on me, like a sudden shower, and I knew it wouldn?t last long.
I grabbed a pencil from behind my ear. I?d stuck it there that morning when I?d done homework, and boy was I glad. Panic set in, though, when I checked my pockets for paper. Wallet and keys were all I had on me because I?d gotten the notion from a kid at school that traveling light was cool. No problem
, I told myself, and went up to the first stranger I could find to beg for a notebook page, or a napkin, or even a piece of tissue. But as soon as the lady saw me approach, she waved me away. Another woman told me, flatly, that she didn?t believe in handouts. Several others eyed me suspiciously. Judging by the fear in their white faces, the fact that I was, at that moment, a frantic, wild-eyed, Black teenager probably had something to do with it. But who had time to dispel racial stereotypes? The poetry raining down on me was slowing to a trickle. If I didn?t find writing paper soon, the poem would be lost.
I must?ve been quite a sight, though, staggering through the park in drab T-shirt and holey bell-bottoms, mumbling drunkenly, ?Gotta find paper! Gotta find paper!? I was almost ready to give up when I spotted a garbage can, one of those open-grated kind the New York Parks Department seems to favor. I held my nose with one hand, and reached in with the other. It was pretty disgusting, I admit, but you do what you have to.
I carefully picked my way through crushed cans of Coke, balled up Kleenex, beer bottles, and old newspapers. Nothing I could use there. Then I got excited about two matchbook covers that were pretty clean, but they were too small for the job I had in mind.
Finally I found a crumpled, but otherwise unsullied, Hershey?s candy bar wrapper, and whispered, Thank God
! I ignored the passersby who wagged their heads as if to say ?poor thing,? squatted on the nearest curb, and scribbled like a maniac.
Here?s the best part. I have no idea what that poem was about, or where that piece of paper is. It could have slipped from my pocket on the subway seat while the AA local lurched its way uptown. Or I could have dropped it in the stairwell when I ran up the three flights to our apartment. Who knows. One way or another, I lost the poem by the time I got home that day, and I can?t, for the life of me, recall a single verse. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
But I do remember my fingers flying across that scrap of paper, and my heart pounding, and the rush I felt scratching out each word. I remember the excitement of molding that inspiration, and shaping it on the page, like clay. And I remember feeling powerful and powerless, all at once, and how the pleasure of that moment lingered for a long, long time. Even the remembering has joy in it. But the poem itself? Gone. Just . . . gone.
CeCe says everything happens in life to teach us something, and I believe her.
I?m not saying I completely understand the point of pouring your heart into a poem and then losing it forever. But from now on I?m carrying a pad and pen with me wherever I go. And I?m going to enjoy every good thing that comes my way, as much as I can, for as long as I can. I plan to treat each thing as if it?s gossamer, or mist. Just in case.
Copyright © 2000 by Nikki Grimes. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.