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Gail Mazur
Gail Mazur

Hall Mirror

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, February 28, 2017.
About this Poem 

“I’m not usually conscious of glancing in the mirror daily on my way out the door, still sometimes I’m stopped by what I see there. The old mirror, reflecting its histories of aspiration, immigration, injustice—my family were Rosenbergs, too—and ecstasy, ‘arrested’ me one cold morning—and triggered ‘Hall Mirror.’”
—Gail Mazur

Hall Mirror

Federal style, two small chips
in the gilt frame, found at a flea market
in the Eisenhower ’50s.

19th century American lovingly refinished,
loving gift of my mother:
It’s too good for you, so take care of it!

Some winter mornings here
the taut lit face of Ethel Rosenberg, 
or the ecstatic face of Blake,

punim of my 6-year-old grandmother,
arriving stunned and mute from Vilna,
her big sister Lena waiting,

who knew what was at stake.

Oh my fierce mother, sanding away
at the kitchen table protected by newspapers,
The Herald, The Forward, The Traveler,

her little brush, her jar of paste
preserving and inventing the past—
for what?

For me.

For today, half-conscious glimpse of myself
on my way out for a walk in February snow,
with a friend, or alone,

my blue woolen hat, my mirror smile…

Copyright © 2017 by Gail Mazur. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Gail Mazur. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

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poem

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?
'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 backyard.

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
1978
Big Bend National Park
Langston Hughes's 1966 Letter
poem

America

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand. 
Claude McKay
1921