Hmm. Let's face it, this poem doesn't necessarily start out on a great foot. After all, saying that you have big hips is sort of like saying you've got too much junk in the trunk or, well, calling yourself "thunder thighs." It's not the kind of thing that most people say about themselves willingly.
As it turns out, that's precisely why Clifton starts the poem out the way that she does. She doesn't seem to be too upset about the fact that her hips are "big." In fact, she calls this poem an "homage" to her hips, which would suggest that their bigness is part of what she's praising.
Want to find out why? Read on….
they need space to move around in.
So it's not just that her hips are big – it's that they require space to move. The second and third lines of this poem modify the first, making the speaker's hips physically and metaphorically big. In other words, these hips (and maybe even the person to which they're attached) need some room to breathe.
Notice how Clifton doesn't even bother with silly details like, say, capitalizing the first letter of a sentence? It helps to create the sense that the speaker is shooting straight from the hip (get it?).
OK, OK – here's what we mean: the speaker is throwing all conventions aside. She doesn't care what people think or say. Moving away from formal conventions makes the poem seem more personal – and perhaps more honest.
Since we're pointing out formal details, we should also mention that the poem takes up a lot of space – two whole lines – to talk about, um, space. It's sort of nifty how the poem enacts its own content, huh?
they don't fit into little petty places.
Here's the obvious reading of these lines: the speaker's hips are big, so they don't fit into places like those teeny-tiny seats airlines try to pass off as "business class" seats.
Think a little outside the box, though, and these lines could start to sound like a rejection of all the "petty places" where women's hips are usually prominently featured, like magazine covers and reality TV shows. In other words, our speaker doesn't have the figure of a supermodel. And she's more than OK with that. She's proud of that.