I want to dedicate this week’s poem to Maya Angelou, who passed away this morning at the age of 86.
Angelou, like her literary predecessor Walt Whitman, documented the hardships and ugliness of humankind with both an astute and lyrical voice. There is an impact that occurs when you first begin to read her words, one that culminates with the force of a slow-moving roll of thunder.
From being sexually abused at seven, to becoming a single mother waiting tables at the age of seventeen, to surviving the Jim Crow South, to receiving the Presidential Medial of Honor from the United States’ first African-American president, Maya Angelou never lost her sense of grace.
If words and spirit could be armor, then Maya Angelou is a gladiator — truly a fierce and gifted spirit who will be greatly missed, but her legacy and bravery will continue to live on forever.
Rest in peace.
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.