Nikky Finney - "He Never Had It Made" Poem | ETV Classics Classroom


Nikky Finney, daughter of the late SC Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney, Jr., recites her poem, "He Never Had It Made" on the occasion of his installation to the S.C. Supreme Court.

Just an ordinary brown boy
from a place and people
who sweet-fed him everything they had in double doses
just in case his man-size pocket should ever
have a hole in them.
Just an ordinary brown corduroy boy
from a people who never had it made
but who still managed to make
whatever they were to be from scratch
An ordinary boy
whose mother never got to bathe or watch him grow
or gaze him from the farmhouse window
where he loved to sit on a summertime box
of Virginia cured daydreams
umbrellaed by the big oak tree
and in between chores
and stare away at the long dirt road
the only way in or out
to grandpop's farm
the same country road that all country boys
tried to stare down in their day
wondering what or who could ever be
at the other end
watching it for signs of life
maybe somebody from the city might visit
from one of those shiny ready-made
who could make magic
of an ordinary brown boy's country-fried life.

Maybe one of those places far away

would take him just as plain as he was
and grow him up to be something legal
maybe even handsome
even dap, debonair
somebody who could easy talk for the regular folk

and then articulate smooth to all the others
when those folk needed him to be  
shiny as new money.  Just for them.

He wanted to be like  
one of those new Black men
who came visiting from the North to the South
talking pretty at the State College of South Carolina
one of those kinds
with the pocket chains and the shiny grey suits
with a hundred pounds of law books
under their arms
like some kind of natural growth.

He figured they were country boys, too,

who never had it made, but who somehow had made it.

And they walked around like nobody else,
stout with the law on their minds
and a personal sense of justice in their hearts
maybe he could be one of those when he grew up.

He never had it made
but he had a proud father and a circle of people
who kept his dying mother's promise

to raise the boy up at their sides
and not just anywhere
with strangers.
His own mother knew he would never have her there to do the
raising herself.

Today is a long promise kept Mama Colleen.

This one
that one there, he never had it made.

He might have  
had it sweetened and sifted
chewed up and spit out, prayed over and molded around

Made from scratch
in somebody's kitchen over somebody’s fire

Beneath his grandfather’s wagon wheels, under his daddy’s stern tutelage,

But he never had it made

you know the way I mean
all silverized and shiny handed down.

He might ‘a had it boiled up,  
explained, and defined and fried and gravied
by an early rising grandmother
or a significant Claflin College. He might have even fished

It out and washed it down himself in scalding water a time or two.
And I'm quite sure he soda jerked it through and through

and baked his dreams in enough tears and high hopes
to try and make sure it was gonna happen  

but he never had it made.

It was never given to him on some royal platter, never

promised at his birth. The making of this man’s life

came from saltwater tears,

Saltwater sweat from love and hard work and from the graciousness of his God.

He never had it made.

But he always loved the law, how he always loved the law
and even when his impulsive, passionate daughter  
argued about history and what wasn't right or fair, how

the scales of justice never seemed balanced in her eyes,  
how he always with the calm of a sailor who knew the ocean,

like an old and faithful well-traveled road, he would say to her

"The law works, Girl."

Believing it completely as if he had written every word of it himself. And his wise old sayings steeped

in patience always kept the law alive.  

A steady drop of water
will wear a hole in a rock, Daughter.
Such are the vicissitudes of life, Son.
If you see me and the bear,
you go on and help the bear, my friend.
It's all right Baby girl, you win some and you lose some.
Just do the best you can with what you got, everybody.

Hundreds of old adages always spilling from his mouth like a black historic


He, to me,

is the justice man and he never had it made,

or delivered or prepaid
from his waiting tables as a young lawyer to

this day, right here.

No statistic, no horrible crime, no lying, no deep disappointment, no

Nothing human or man-made,

Has ever destroyed or made him give up on his law. He believed then, he believed now.

It is his belief that is chief.
The Justice Man
I know you never had it made
but here you are making it
and all of us cross over with you
proud as peacocks.
maybe that's what Pop Finney
maybe that's what Mama Colleen
would say


- Nikky Finney