Wednesday, May 28, 2014

American author and poet Maya Angelou died today.

She was 86 years old. She has been an inspiration to America in its struggle to transcend racism and sexism. As a teen I read her moving autobiography and coming of age story  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) whose title was taken from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem. It was my first understanding of the trepidation that awaits female children for it portrays Angelou’s own rape at the age of eight.  Today in our electronically connected world we have plenty evidence of female children’s precariousness, a world where Nigerian girls are kidnapped from school, and in Pakistan Yusuf Malala is shot in the head for advocating for girls attending school. I did not know then, at fifteen, that I would one day become a psychoanalyst and work so predominately with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, but Angelou’s book must have been an impetus for me just as it has been an inspiration to countless others.

 Perhaps there is no better epitaph for her than her poem Still, I rise:
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.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll 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 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
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.

Maya Angelou

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