“Welcome home, Maya”: from a distance, Black poets greet Maya Angelou

 I. PRELUDE 

No hour is eternity, but each has its right to weep.
Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God    

 

ANGELOUHere was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net.

Pulled it from around the waist of the world

and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes!

She called in her soul to come and see.

Zora Neale Hurston

99eedcd50649ec0b874ee5a01d000c4f

Maya Angelou, about eight years old, 1936 / Stamps, Arkansas / Photographer unknown

 image_11 stars

 

 

_______________________________________________________ 

 

She might now her silken pinions try to rise from earth,

and sweep th’ expanse on high:

From Tithon’s bed now might Aurora rise,

while a pure stream of light o’erflows the skies.

Phillis Wheatley  Kidnapped at age 7 in West Africa, American slave, 1753–1784

 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

african_night_by_edavid0817-d4ujhnb

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

I was born in the Congo.

I walked to the fertile crescent and built the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that glows only once in every hundred years falls
into the center,  giving divine perfect light.

  Nikki Giovanni,  from Ego Trip 

__________________________ 

  O N E:  S T. L O U I S

3267568944_48aeb57046

ST. LOUIS STREET SCENE, 1933 AMERICAN ARTIST JOE JACKSON, 1901-1963

Maya Angelou arrived in the world by way of St. Louis, Missouri on an early spring day in 1928: April 4, to be exact.  Spring in St. Louis lasts about five minutes; thus, were we able get a glimpse of her at  the age of one month, we would see a tall, red-faced, crabby baby, dripping in the sub-tropical heat. That’s what all St. Louis babies look like until the beginning  of November.

548_2201930-c_unidentified-building_a2001-083

mc57

Like so many other African-Americans, Maya’s father had migrated to St. Louis from the rural South, seeking to put a distance between himself and the region’s poverty, racism, and increasing white violence. Black people did make better lives for themselves in the urban North, but it took decades of hard, hard struggle for the Great Migration, as it came to be known, to produce decent working class communities, and, later, a Black middle class. They quickly discovered that the North was no promised land. In fact, the 1920s were marked by an unprecedented wave of white mob violence that swept northern cities such as Chicago, Detroit,  Philadelphia, and Topeka.

depression%20unemployment

St. Louis was both less welcoming and more familiar to southern African-Americans than  its peers further north. The city is actually only about 100 miles from the cotton fields of northern Arkansas, and remains at heart a southern city. In fact, the notorious St. Louis Race Riot (read white mob violence) led the way in 1917, preceding the  violence of the 1920s by a good five years.

The Great Depression was  tightening its chokehold on the nation’s throat by the time Maya was three years old.

 

4450_image1

ST.LOUIS HARBOR /  JOE JACKSON, AMERICAN ARTIST, 19and sudd01-1963

  TWO: CALIFORNIA IS WHERE YOU GO TO LEAVE

There’s nothing you can do to make the grown-ups stay.

What’s this? It’s the children who have to go away!

_________   Δ   _________   Δ  ___________  Δ ___________   Δ _____________

 The same sun follows the train across the huge land, so the children know that it is always dark now in California.  They hold themselves very still in their seat, not even opening their food boxes, and  getting up only when they are forced to lurch to the restroom together.  They are, respectively, three and four years old, their parents are divorcing, and their father has put them on a train in San Francisco with notes pinned to their buttonholes. 

 ____ A Dream for Maya and Bailey _____

But eventually, they can cross up to the front car holding hands – and look now, by the time they reach Missouri, Maya and Bailey are RIDING that train. They are standing up straight, they are standing on top of the Ozark Mountains, they can see past the top of the sky , they are blowing the wind where they want it to go.

 Finally, when the land becomes flat again, Maya and Bailey hear the Mississippi River, still miles ahead and humming to itself. That’s how they know when to lean to the right, turning  the train south and steering it into the cotton fields of Arkansas.

T H R E E:  S T A M P S, A R K A N S A S

paletz-fig03_004

“When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for the others to look at and see, it was nice.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

_______________________________________________________________________________________

548_154_hooverville_umsl

Some folks hollered hard times
because hard times were new.
Hard times is all I ever had,
why should I lie to you?
Some folks hollered hard times.
What is it all about?
Things were bad for me when
those hard times started out.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 lange460x276stamps1b

By Arna Bontemps 1902–1973

I have sown beside all waters in my day.
I planted deep, within my heart the fear
that wind or fowl would take the grain away.
I planted safe against this stark, lean year.
____________
I scattered seed enough to plant the land
in rows from Canada to Mexico –
but for my reaping, only what the hand
                    can hold at once.
_______________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
quote-i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings-ah-me-when-his-wing-is-bruised-and-his-bosom-sore-when-he-beats-paul-laurence-dunbar-327177
__________________________________
Boll-weevil’s coming, and the winter’s cold,
Made cotton-stalks look rusty, seasons old,
And cotton, scarce as any southern snow,
Was vanishing; the branch, so pinched and slow,
Failed in its function as the autumn rake;
Drouth fighting soil had caused the soil to take
All water from the streams; dead birds were found
In wells a hundred feet below the ground—
Such was the season when the flower bloomed.
Old folks were startled, and it soon assumed
Significance. Superstition saw
Something it had never seen before:
Brown eyes that loved without a trace of fear,
Beauty so sudden for that time of year.
im-children-in-the-mississippi-delta-circa-1930s-c2a9-dorothea-lange
2a04fb67131403801dd93685e0718f66
________________________________
 Countee Cullen 1903–1946
Now I was eight and very small,
   And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
   His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
   From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
   That’s all that I remember
________________________
stamps_hs_f
Stamps, Arkansas High School (white only)  Photo info unknown
stamps_triangle_forum_skyscraperpage_com_
Downtown Stamps, Arkansas                      Photo info unknown
____________________________________________________________________
STILL, I RISE  (excerpts)
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.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened  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
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

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise.

Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014
_______________________________
maya
REST IN PEACE, MAYA
_________________________
END OF PART ONE
_______________
All prose (non-poetry) by Claire O’Brien © 2014
Advertisements

25 thoughts on ““Welcome home, Maya”: from a distance, Black poets greet Maya Angelou

  1. What an excellent post! These are such incredible women whose legacies and words will live on long after their deaths. And I’ve never heard that Nikki Giovonni poem before but it’s definitely going to go down as one of my favorites now.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Caleb!

      You know – they really are incredible. And just as incredible are the people and tradition from which they came, and for which they speak.
      I was wondering – are you Creole?

      Thanks again for writing. You always give me hope.

      Like

      1. That’s interesting! Well, I guess it doesn’t feel that interesting to you because you are there. But from the perspective of those of us in distant regions of the country, it’s an interesting cultural identity. I hope you write about it sometime.
        Thanks a lot, Caleb. “See” you soon,

        Like

      2. Ok friend. And I have to say, I don’t know if writing about that would be as interesting to read as you might think since, I hate to say, it would feel more like an assignment for me than writing about something that actually interests me. I know that sounds terrible!

        Like

      3. Listen, young man, you WILL do that assignment – and what’s more, I’m going to grade it.
        Ha har! Just giving you a hard time…wouldn’t it be dreadful if bloggers could give one another homework assignments?
        Seriously, we’ll all be pretty lucky if Caleb Gee continues to write about what interests HIM…
        Peace, brother,
        Claire

        Like

    1. Merci! I am so sorry I neglected to answer you sooner. I was planning to check out your link and then I just had some difficulties to deal with. I am very sorry. I plan to catch up with myself very soon.
      Thanks again!

      Like

  2. TY that was wonderful … Considering her difficult childhood…just amazing eloquence, wisdom and inspiration in her poetry. I’ve Learned life gives second chances …actually many chances.

    Hope all is well, Claire. Btw, Nice prose.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much Angela. I just looked through the work of previous Black American poets whose voices lifted one another’s.
      I pray that I can accomplish just a fraction of the quality of living Maya Angelou lived
      before I die.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s