I’ll admit it’s been years since I’ve read anything written by Maya Angelou, and I haven’t read all of her works. When I heard of her death yesterday, however, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sadness. The world has lost a great writer and activist.
The first thing I ever read of Maya Angelou’s was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I believe it was required reading when I was in school, but it could’ve just been something I picked up. I remember loving it, and moved on to some of her poetry after that. And I’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t particularly care for poetry. About the only things I really enjoy are Poe, my sister’s angst-ridden teenage poems, and Ms. Angelou’s works. I remember Caged Bird being one of the first books I read that gave me perspective from the life of someone who grew up in very different circumstances from myself. She lit a fire in me to read things that were outside of my normal reading zone, and made me realize that sometimes reading about different people’s stories can sometimes be uncomfortable, guilt-ridden, even appalling, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read and learn from their words.
STILL I RISE, by Maya Angelou
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.