22 September 2016

Book of Poetry - Thank You Maya Angelou

I just purchased the book Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry (2015, Random House). It's a beautiful volume; holding it, I'm almost in tears because of what it represents.

I'm starting what I hope will be a continual dialog between her poetry and me, and you, my dear readers. (Note: I will not be reproducing full poems here; that violates copyright and just isn't ethical.)

I met Maya Angelou when I was an undergrad at CU Boulder back in the '80s. Spectacular. I got her to sign my copy of her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I was in awe and awkward and asked her if it was OK if I could say she was my hero. Of course she said yes.

Had I not been afraid of the unknown, of a complex alteration of my life's course, I might have gone to grad school at Wake Forest University, where she taught in the humanities department. But I didn't. I stayed here and got a master's in Journalism. I wonder what if ...

Today's selection:
"On a Bright Day, Next Week," first published in 1971 in Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water before I Diiie (part 2: "Just before the World Ends"). The lines, "All my tears will powder / Black in dust like ashes" (p. 30) speak to me as if written about the pain of now — with so many African American men (and women) dying violent deaths at the hands of police.

Let me write it out again: "All my tears will powder / Black in dust like ashes."

The poem also refers to "Just before the bomb falls," and I think that is in reference to the atomic bomb. In the late '60s, early '70s we all were walking clench-jawed in fear of the A-bomb, and in school we practiced hiding under desks (the same as our earthquake drills; I grew up in California) to shelter from what we didn't understand.

[[Aside: This reminds me of a chapter, "Snow," from the book, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Trying to summarize the chapter takes away from this post; just thought I'd mention it, and you can look it up. Good book.]]

"Just before the bomb falls" could also signify the weight and shock of knowing that even "on a bright day next week" one's world could fall apart. But all is not lost; Angelou writes. "Then will mercy tumble ... Falling from the sky."

That's what we need now; mercy falling from the sky to spread like dust on all Earth's children.

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