Snare of the shine of your teeth,
Your provocative laughter,
The gloom of your hair;
Lure of you, eye and lip;
And madness, madness,
Tremulous, breathless, flaming,
The space of a sigh;
Pain, regret—your sobbing;
And again, quiet—the stars,
This poem is in the public domain.
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
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
imagine a tulip, upon seeing a garden full of tulips, sheds its petals in disgust, prays some bee will bring its pollen to a rose bush. imagine shadows longing for a room with light in every direction. you look in the mirror & see a man you refuse to love. small child sleeping near Clorox, dreaming of soap suds & milk, if no one has told you, you are a beautiful & lovable & black & enough & so—you pretty you—am i.
From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.
after Morgan Parker, after Wu-Tang
in the morning I think about money
green horned lord of my waking
forest in which I stumbled toward no salvation
prison made of emerald & pennies
in my wallet I keep anxiety & a condom
I used to sell my body but now my blood spoiled
All my favorite songs tell me to get money
I’d rob a bank but I’m a poet
I’m so broke I’m a genius
If I was white, I’d take pictures of other pictures & sell them
I come from sharecroppers who come from slaves who do not come from kings
sometimes I pay the weed man before I pay the light bill
sometimes is a synonym for often
I just want a grant or a fellowship or a rich white husband & I’ll be straight
I feel most colored when I’m looking at my bank account
I feel most colored when I scream ball so hard motherfuckas wanna find me
I spent one summer stealing from ragstock
If I went to jail I’d live rent-free but there is no way to avoid making white people richer
A prison is a plantation made of stone & steel
Being locked up for selling drugs = Being locked up for trying to eat
a bald fade cost 20 bones now a days
what’s a blacker tax than blackness?
what cost more than being American and poor?
here is where I say reparations.
here is where I say got 20 bucks I can borrow?
student loans are like slavery but not but with vacation days but not but police
I don’t know what it says about me when white institutions give me money
how much is the power ball this week?
I’mma print my own money and be my own god and live forever in a green frame
my grandmamma is great at saving money
before my grandfather passed he showed me where he hid his money & his gun
my aunt can’t hold on to a dollar, a job, her brain
I love how easy it is to be bad with money
don’t ask me about my taxes
the b in debt is a silent black boy trapped
Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Used by permission of the Archives of Claude McKay (Carl Cowl, administrator).
some black women are my friends & their tears seem the hems
of blue dresses. I ball un-ball
my pocketed palms
& think on stockings, bells.
among my students sometimes number black women—
I wish their tears were rungs; such desire may too be grease, tho.
my mother’s youngest sister’s torn calendar tears,
Mondays, Marches, 29ths, ’91s & ’83s
till wicker bins choke, shredder hacks.
a couple of tears, middle sister pinches at her eye,
a black woman’s spyglass. she peers
through the wide between her &.
my older cousins, black women, their tears are:
(a) fresh batteries in broken clocks
(b) ruined coin souvenirs
(c) wheatbread heels jim crowed in fridges
(d) what pitted the yellow linoleum thus
the black mother of the black woman who married me,
her tears’re sunk ships:
coral polyps load the lode & awful hopeful at it.
...!!!] then I’m at last quiet.
my daughter, black girl, rattles,
at me, her scabbard of tears.
my younger cousins, black women, their tears are:
(a) pill bottles
(b) in pill bottles
(c) lids you press down, then turn to loose
(d) anything bottled & near bathroom mirrors
likely my father’s oldest sister, black woman,
kept her tears where they’d pass for shotgun:
slant shade the jamb threw as simmering mask.
my father’s other sister, her tears stop his mouth,
or they’re wood doves, cote’d in his chestnut mind?
grandmother, my black father’s mother? gone.
her tears were empty chairs: pine
white bowl though the rice there was tears of my great aunt,
these days, my grandmother, black woman who mothered my mother,
mislays her tears—she always finds them in the,
finds them in,
the black woman who married me,
her tears inside her out like black church stockings / runs.
& my black mother dead.
Copyright © 2016 by Douglas Kearney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Don’t knock at my door, little child,
I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
I cannot let you in!
Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
I must not give you birth!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
From Saint Peter Relates an Incident by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1917, 1921, 1935 James Weldon Johnson, renewed 1963 by Grace Nail Johnson. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.