For Black History Month, I wrote about Maya Angelou and what her work means to me for Migrant Voice.
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:
I can think of no finer tribute to Maya Angelou than her own words, written for other heroes that have gone before.
For Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass
I lay down in my grave
And watch my children
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
Within my space and
Brings me roots of my
Their seeds must fall
And press beneath
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)
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.