february 12, 1963 I am born on a Tuesday at the University Hospital Columbus, Ohio USA-- a country caught between Black and White. I am born not long from the time or far from the place where my great, great grandparents worked the deep rich land unfree dawn till dusk unpaid drank cool water from scooped out gourds looked up and followed the sky's mirrored constellation to freedom. I am born as the south explodes, too many people too many years enslaved then emancipated but not free, the people who look like me keep fighting and marching and getting killed so that today-- February 12, 1963 and every day from this moment on, brown children, like me, can grow up free. Can grow up learning and voting and walking and riding wherever we want. I am born in Ohio but the stories of South Carolina already run like rivers through my veins. 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 and wide-eyed. 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 . . . Another Buckeye! 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 Rosa's or Ruby's gently gloved and fiercely folded calmly in a lap, on a desk, around a book, ready to change the world . . .       it'll be scary sometimes   My great-great-grandfather on my father's side was born free in Ohio,   1832.   Built his home and farmed his land, then dug for coal when the farming wasn't enough. Fought hard in the war. His name in stone now on the Civil War Memorial:   William J. Woodson United States Colored Troops, Union, Company B 5th Regt.   A long time dead but living still among the other soldiers on that monument in Washington, D.C.   His son was sent to Nelsonville lived with an aunt   William Woodson the only brown boy in an all-white school.   You'll face this in your life someday, my mother will tell us over and over again. A moment when you walk into a room and   no one there is like you.   It'll be scary sometimes. But think of William Woodson and you'll be all right.       the beginning   I cannot write a word yet but at three, I now know the letter J love the way it curves into a hook that I carefully top with a straight hat the way my sister has taught me to do. Love the sound of the letter and the promise that one day this will be connected to a full name,   my own   that I will be able to write   by myself.   Without my sister's hand over mine, making it do what I cannot yet do.   How amazing these words are that slowly come to me. How wonderfully on and on they go.   Will the words end, I ask whenever I remember to.   Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now, and promising me   infinity.       hair night   Saturday night smells of biscuits and burning hair. Supper done and my grandmother has transformed the kitchen into a beauty shop. Laid across the table is the hot comb, Dixie Peach hair grease, horsehair brush, parting stick and one girl at a time. Jackie first, my sister says, our freshly washed hair damp and spiraling over toweled shoulders and pale cotton nightgowns. She opens her book to the marked page, curls up in a chair pulled close to the wood-burning stove, bowl of peanuts in her lap. The words in her books are so small, I have to squint to see the letters. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates. The House at Pooh Corner. Swiss Family Robinson. Thick books dog-eared from the handing down from neighbor to neighbor. My sister handles them gently, marks the pages with torn brown pieces of paper bag, wipes her hands before going beyond the hardbound covers. Read to me, I say, my eyes and scalp already stinging from the tug of the brush through my hair. And while my grandmother sets the hot comb on the flame, heats it just enough to pull my tight curls straighter, my sister's voice wafts over the kitchen, past the smell of hair and oil and flame, settles like a hand on my shoulder and holds me there. I want silver skates like Hans's, a place on a desert island. I have never seen the ocean but this, too, I can imagine--blue water pouring over red dirt. As my sister reads, the pictures begin forming as though someone has turned on a television, lowered the sound, pulled it up close. Grainy black-and-white pictures come slowly at me Deep. Infinite. Remembered   On a bright December morning long ago . . .   My sister's clear soft voice opens up the world to me. I lean in so hungry for it.   Hold still now, my grandmother warns. So I sit on my hands to keep my mind off my hurting head, and my whole body still. But the rest of me is already leaving, the rest of me is already gone.       the butterfly poems   No one believes me when I tell them I am writing a book about butterflies, even though they see me with the Childcraft encyclopedia heavy on my lap opened to the pages where the monarch, painted lady, giant swallowtail and queen butterflies live. Even one called a buckeye.   When I write the first words Wings of a butterfly whisper . . .   no one believes a whole book could ever come from something as simple as butterflies that don't even, my brother says, live that long.   But on paper, things can live forever. On paper, a butterfly never dies. Excerpted from Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.