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.
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.
"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more—that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut—my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"
From Shel Silverstein: Poems and Drawings; originally appeared in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Copyright © 2003 by HarperCollins Children's Books. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
It was the summer of Chandra Levy, disappearing from Washington D.C., her lover a Congressman, evasive and blow-dried from Modesto, the TV wondering in every room in America to an image of her tight jeans and piles of curls frozen in a studio pose. It was the summer the only woman known as a serial killer, a ten-dollar whore trolling the plains of central Florida, said she knew she would kill again, murder filled her dreams and if she walked in the world, it would crack her open with its awful wings. It was the summer that in Texas, another young woman killed her five children, left with too many little boys, always pregnant. One Thanksgiving, she tried to slash her own throat. That summer the Congressman lied again about the nature of his relations, or, as he said, he couldn't remember if they had sex that last night he saw her, but there were many anonymous girls that summer, there always are, who lower their necks to the stone and pray, not to God but to the Virgin, herself once a young girl, chosen in her room by an archangel. Instead of praying, that summer I watched television, reruns of a UFO series featuring a melancholic woman detective who had gotten cancer and was made sterile by aliens. I watched infomercials: exercise machines, pasta makers, and a product called Nails Again With Henna, ladies, make your nails steely strong, naturally, and then the photograph of Chandra Levy would appear again, below a bright red number, such as 81, to indicate the days she was missing. Her mother said, please understand how we're feeling when told that the police don't believe she will be found alive, though they searched the parks and forests of the Capitol for the remains and I remembered being caught in Tennessee, my tent filled with wind lifting around me, tornado honey, said the operator when I called in fear. The highway barren, I drove to a truck stop where maybe a hundred trucks hummed in pale, even rows like eggs in a carton. Truckers paced in the dining room, fatigue in their beards, in their bottomless cups of coffee. The store sold handcuffs, dirty magazines, t-shirts that read, Ass, gas or grass. Nobody rides for free, and a bulletin board bore a public notice: Jane Doe, found in a refrigerator box outside Johnson, TN, her slight measurements and weight. The photographs were of her face, not peaceful in death, and of her tattoos Born to Run, and J.T. caught in scrollworks of roses. One winter in Harvard Square, I wandered drunk, my arms full of still warm, stolen laundry, and a man said come to my studio and of course I went— for some girls, our bodies are not immortal so much as expendable, we have punished them or wearied from dragging them around for so long and so we go wearing the brilliant plumage of the possibly freed by death. Quick on the icy sidewalks, I felt thin and fleet, and the night made me feel unique in the eyes of the stranger. He told me he made sculptures of figure skaters, not of the women's bodies, but of the air that whipped around them, a study of negative space, which he said was the where-we-were-not that made us. Dizzy from beer, I thought why not step into that space? He locked the door behind me.
From Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream by Connie Voisine. Copyright © 2008 by Connie Voisine. Used by permission of University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.