Maya Angelou reading at Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration.
My very first National Poetry Month posting elicited a request for Maya Angelou on the Facebook link. Glad to oblige, Alicia Mallory Byrd. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the exact poem you requested on line, but I hope this offering will satisfy your Angelou jones.
The remarkable Ms. Angelou celebrated her 83rd birthday this week. Her story is already the stuff of legend which she documented in a series of brilliant memoir/autobiographies starting with her acclaimed recounting of a harrowing childhood and adolescence, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. After struggling as a young single mother in poverty, Angelou re-invented herself, including leaving behind her birth name, Marguerite Johnson. She became in turn a celebrated modern dancer, Calypso singer, and actress before concentrating on writing as a member of the Harlem Writers’ Guild. She became drawn into the Civil Rights Movement by organizing Cabaret for Freedom to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and was soon a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a National Director of the SCLC. She would later collaborate with Malcom X in his post-Nation of Islam civil rights organization. She also lived, wrote, and taught in Egypt and Ghana in the 1960s. The assassination of Dr. King on her birthday in 1967 turned her to her autobiographical writing. Since then four more volumes of autobiography have followed in addition to poetry, plays, screenplays, and composing music. Since 1981 she has been based at Wake Forest University where she is professor of American Studies. Angelou became the first poet since Robert Frost to read at a Presidential inauguration. In 2008 she campaigned vigorously for Hillary Clinton, and then just as enthusiastically lent her support to Barack Obama. Earlier this year President Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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
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