Harryette Mullen Prep Pages

Part B: Close Reading of “Black Nikes”

Harryette Mullen’s “Black Nikes” expresses the desire for escape and transcendence by juxtaposing cosmic imagery with the dirt and soil of our muddy planet. “We need quarters like King Tut needed a boat,” the poem begins, introducing the collective speaker, a group of individuals who have “lived quietly among the stars, knowing money isn’t what matters.” They say they live among the stars, yet they are still tied to the finite materiality of earth: “Time is rotting as our bodies wait for now I lay me down to earth.” The speakers exist between a spiritual fascination with the reaches of space (“what we want is star dust”) and a physical imprisonment on the planet.

The poem also weaves the motif of money and purchase throughout, from the speakers’ claim that they know what really matters, and it isn’t money, to the “expensive appliance” nature allegedly hates, to products like “our new persuasion shoes.” The debasing power of money is another factor pushing them toward “the thrill of victory” resulting from “leaving all this dirt.”

Part C: Question 2

I find that Mullen’s speakers often have more presence than their subjects. The inquisitive, reflective speaker in “Why You and I” dominates the work, providing the sole voice through which the reader interprets the poem. While the subject may seem more central to a work like “Elliptical,” I would argue that the speaker is still the controlling force with which the reader has the most connection. Even with the gaps in the poem that seem to call attention to the subject rather than the speaker, the poem’s choppy cadence reads more like the unique diction pattern of a speaker rather than a complete sequence of phrases from which certain parts have been removed.

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