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Has anyone here ever killed a spider? Actually, I have a better question: has anyone here ever not killed a spider? The battle to keep spiders and other bugs out of the house is a fairly constant one, and most everyone, at some point in time, has found the easiest solution is to simply pick up a shoe and smash all small invaders—which is why I was so intrigued by Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables,” a poem that describes the author’s shame at killing a harmless spider she finds in her house.

The poem is written in free verse, with no rhyme or obvious rhythm, but the author nonetheless draws the reader in with ample repetition and a choppy style that reflects the emotions she describes. In order to better explain her feelings, she uses imagery to describe the spider as harmless, explaining that it was “sort of papery.” I was rather surprised to note that there was no punctuation in the entire poem, but decided that the lack of grammatical breaks mimicked the thought process the author is going through. Giovanni gives “Allowables” a very memorable ending with the simple, straightforward phrase “I don’t think / I’m allowed / To kill something / Because I am / Frightened,” using enjambment to give emphasis to certain parts of the sentence.

What really drew me to this poem, however, is less the style of the writing than the way in which I connected to it, both on a personal level and on a larger scale. I can’t deny that there have been times when, given a choice between capturing a spider I just encountered in my bathtub and taking it outside or washing it down the drain, I have chosen to kill it. I always regret it after, but I continue to make the same mistake, refusing to overcome my initial fear response and act reasonably. Giovanni’s poem may seem to be making a big deal out of an inconsequential event—until one considers its implications in light of current events. Much of the racial discrimination and violence in our world is due to people allowing fear to rule them, causing them to strike out at all the people of an ethnicity because they are too afraid to remember that most of these people mean them no harm.

Sonia Bhaskaran Allowables
Sonia Bhaskaran, 14
Glendale, CA