Thursday, 29 May 2014

My farewell letter to Maya Angelou

Dear Dr Angelou

I'm going to be cheesy for just a moment.

Sorry, my bandwagon is going to hitch up with all the others for today, how can it not?

You were one of the greatest, most shining of writers in this world, and have left us all the poorer for it.  I know you're in a better place, wherever it is you wanted to go after this life.  I know that despite your absence, your work will speak to the next generations and hopefully forge new thinkers, new speakers of peace the way you were.

Maya Angelou, you saved me, or rather, your poem 'A brave and startling truth' saved my life.

And you'll have to forgive me, this rant will ramble and have absolutely no structure (which would be a shame because you structured your poetry so beautifully and subtly…)

I have always teetered from being too sad to formulate words on some days and on others too happy to bring myself to believe that anything could ever go wrong.  Such is the way so many of us are, especially when we are young.  When we're young we get so myopic and can't see past the hole we dig ourselves into.

To paraphrase Seamus Heaney a bit; your pen was the shovel that dug me out into the sun with just the opening stanza of my favorite poem:
Traveling through casual space 
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns 
To a destination where all signs tell us 
It is possible and imperative that we learn 
A brave and startling truth

And just like that, I am made humble, small and yet strong and hopeful all at once and the feeling I felt when the full impact of those words hit me was so liberating that even on really, really bad days, just that stanza alone is enough to wash over me like a balm.  It feels good to know I'm part of a bigger journey, my problems become small and bearable when faced with the wonder of 'casual space'.   

It helps me so much; you remind me that I am made of stardust and I become happy to share the same experiences as the rest of humanity, flawed and small as we sometimes seem to be.  You remind me of how magnificent we are as a people, how burning and brilliant we are despite everything.  This poem made me feel proud to be human, proud that I shared words like yours, but only you could structure in such a way to leave us feeling inspired.

You have this cooling effect like sea foam over hot coals.  It is so refreshing to read your poetry, every time I read this one though, my breath hitches just a bit and I wonder what it feels like to have vision as big as yours.

That poem put everything into perspective for me, not to mention how powerful the rest of that epic 11 stanza poem is.

You've always had this ability to take the long view about life, which is probably why you're so inspired. You don't speak about life as an amalgam of separate moments but as one long slow blink of an eye, spanning the millennia from the beginning of time.  It's like you see sparks of infinity which you described in your poetry.
And of course, there is the fact that your wit and courage is a powerful voice for women, and for African Americans, you are one of their finest warriors in the struggle for equal rights in the USA. 

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. 

Damn lady, you was classy even when you was biting a chunk out of them, and oh, did I mention, YOU MADE TUPAC CRY.  Mad props… goddamn

So rest in Power you amazing, phenomenal woman, you are the finest of all of us and I can only hope that your words forge a better person of me, us and generations to come.

I'll miss you, but probably not that much, because you're in the place that matters in my heart.

May the universe embrace you on your final journey.


Edit:  I wrote a hell of a lot more rant, but after going to lunch and doing errands, my mind had time to cool down and detach a bit and not be as melodramatic as it originally sounded.  Perspective is an awesome thing.  That was something I also learned from Dr Angelou's work.

The Rock Cries out to us Today
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers--
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours--your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes,
Into your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. 

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