Tag Archives: Maya Angelou

Still I Rise

For Black History Month, I wrote about Maya Angelou and what her work means to me for Migrant Voice.

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A Life Well Lived

When I was an awkward 13 year-old ill at ease in my own skin and self-conscious about my eczema scars, this poem changed my life:

Phenomenal Woman- Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Capture
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Elegy

I can think of no finer tribute to Maya Angelou than her own words, written for other heroes that have gone before.

“Elegy

For Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass

 

I lay down in my grave

And watch my children

Grow

Proud blooms

Above the weeds of death.

 

Their petals wave

And still nobody

Knows the soft black

Dirt that is my winding

Sheet. The worms, my friends,

Yet tunnel holes in

Bones and through those

Apertures I see the rain,

The sunfelt warmth

Now jabs

Within my space and

Brings me roots of my

Children born.

 

Their seeds must fall

And press beneath

This earth,

And find me where I

Wait. My only need to

Fertilize their birth.

 

I lay down in my grave

And watch my children grow.”

– Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

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All God’s Children need travelling shoes

Maya Angelou died today and I’m not sad. Well… a bit sad. There are some lights in this world that leave us poorer without them. She is one of those.

And yet, upon her death, I find myself struck by how much she gave the world. Her words, her voice, will outlast her. Her poems will continue to enlighten and inspire young girls (as I once was) the world over. Her life was so rich, so layered, so well lived that it seems almost churlish to demand why we couldn’t have had longer with her.

Her family’s statement stressed that she died at peace, in her home, without any loss of her faculties. That is a fine end to a life lived with such passion and wisdom and courage.

I first encountered her work like so many others, through her poetry and specifically her poem, Phenomenal Woman. An awkward 13 year-old, I learnt it by heart and recited it to myself to exhort myself to be braver, bolder, more confident. I read all her books, poetry, essays – I devoured her work. Just two days ago I started on her latest memoir, Mom and Me and Mom. I read the introductory page and stopped, arrested by her words:

“This book has been written to examine some of the ways love heals and helps a person to climb to impossible heights and rise from immeasurable depths”

I couldn’t go on. I wanted to savour that thought, as always with Dr Angelou, so succint and beautiful and elegant and wise. I’ll read the rest eventually. Right now I’m a little buffetted by love and I don’t think I can cope with it. But I will.

Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. Thank you for your words, which will warm us for the ages.

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