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Maya Angelou reads “Still I Rise,” “No No No No,” and “On the Pulse of Morning”


Some poets become so famous that other poets who are not famous, and there are many more of those, think that something must be wrong with a poet who rises so high in her own lifetime that even people who read no poetry at all know who she is. What kind of miracle is that, to be known and read? The poet, Maya Angelou, part actress, part activist, was strengthened by her struggles; and her particular welcoming feistiness sustained her through the years. Her voice caught your attention when she entered a room, and often her words were like a balm on a wound, healing in their sounds.

There is nothing I can say about “Still I Rise” that the poet does not say in the Vimeo below. Enjoy.




Still I Rise

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?
Just ’cause I walk as if I have oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like suns and like moons,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I 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 sassiness upset you?
Don’t take it so hard
Just ’cause I laugh as if I have gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You can shoot me with your words,
You can cut me with your lies,
You can kill me with your hatefulness,
But just like life, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness offend you?
Awww, does it come as a surprise
That I dance as if I have diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past rooted in pain
I rise
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 miraculously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the hope and the dream of the slave.

And so naturally there I go rising.



And here is a poem by Maya Angelou that one does not normally see in the anthologies. “No No No No”


the two-legg’d beasts
that walk like men
play stink finger in their crusty asses
while crackling babies
in napalm coats
stretch mouths to receive
burning tears
on splitting tongues

the gap-legg’d whore
of the eastern shore
enticing Europe to COME
in her
but turns her back to me
to me
who stoked the coal that drove the ships
which brought her over the sinuous cemetery
of my many brothers

the cocktailed afternoons
of what can I do?
In my white lady pink world
I’ve let your men cram my mouth
with their black throbbing hate
and I swallowed after
I’ve let your mammies
steal from my kitchens
(I was always half-amused)

I’ve chuckled the chins of
your topsy-haired pickaninnies.
Now what can I do?
I’ll never be black like you.

the red-shoed priests riding
in barefoot children country
the plastered saints gazing down
on kneeling mothers
picking undigested beans
from yesterday’s shit.

I have waited
toes curled, hat rolled
heart and genitals
in hand
on the back porches
of forever
in the kitchens and fields
of rejections
on the cold marble steps
of America’s White Out-House
in the drop seats of buses
and the open flies of wars

No more
the dream that you
will cease haunting me
down in fetid swamps of fear
and will turn to embrace your own
which I AM

No more
the hope that
razored insults
which mercury-slide over your tongue
will be forgotten
and you will learn the words of love
Mother Father Brother Sister Lover Friend

My hopes
dying slowly
rose petals
beneath an autumn red moon
will not adorn your unmarked graves

My hopes
lying quietly
a dark pool under the trees
will not carry your name
to a forgetful shore
And what a pity

What a pity
that pity has folded in upon itself
an old man’s mouth
whose teeth are gone
and I have no pity.



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