Rest in peace, Maya Angelou

The first time I saw Maya Angelou I think I actually cried when she came onstage.  When she spoke in that beautiful voice of hers, you could hear a pin drop.  The tickets were really expensive and hard to get and I was thrilled to be there. I couldn’t afford the limited meet and greet VIP tickets but after the show, I peered at her through the barriers. I felt like a commoner trying to sneak a peek at a queen or something.  The 2nd time, I saw her at the Vogue theatre,  I ran into an actress colleague of mine and we went around back of the theatre to see if we could catch her coming out.  We did, and I did get a chance to tell her how much I admired her and how I really appreciated her.  On stage, she seemed larger than life, but here she was 80 and frail, sitting in a wheelchair, she seemed small but exceptionally powerful. Tired, I think.   I just wanted her to see me, really see how much I loved her, her words, her very being in this world.  I just couldn’t seem to find the most eloquent of words to express to her how I felt.  There was this other woman there, who was just blabbering on at her, not going away, not ceding her space up to me, and grasping at her and I wanted to slap her.  Really, really?!  You just don’t reach out to touch a cultural icon.  But I spoke to her, she spoke back.  I don’t even remember what she said.  Of course I don’t.  Honestly, I was just trying not to sound like a lovesick fan.  Tried to play it cool and professional. Not gush, not crowd her. Not embarrass myself. I wish I could remember.  Probably she said thank you.  Stupid blabbering woman who would not go away.  I wanted to choke her.  And then someone helped Ms Angelou on the tour bus and she was gone. 

The baby girl I thought I would have?  I named her Maya. 

Years ago, I performed this poem for a spoken word evening I had produced for Black History Month.  She made me proud to be a black woman. 

And Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread 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 back yard.

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
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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6 thoughts on “Rest in peace, Maya Angelou

  1. This made me cry. The first reading I ever went to was hers. My mom hauled me across town to a crowded room. It must’ve been 1982 or so. We sat on folding chairs. I knew after that that I wanted to write.

    Xoxo

    P

  2. Beautiful tribute. One of my strongest memories in high school is reading “I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings”. It was the first time this sheltered suburban white girl learned that there are vastly different experiences. I think it also was part of a catalyst to start thinking on my own and make a break in philosophy with my parents. She was a powerful voice.

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