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.
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.
This poem is in the public domain.
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America
The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America
We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America
I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America
School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America
What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America
Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America
Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America
We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America
Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America
Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America
Copyright © 2013 by Alicia Ostriker. "Ghazal: America the Beautiful" has appeared in the July-August 2012 issue of The Atlantic and in the Winter 2013 issue of Logos. Used with permission of the author.
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.
With your kind permission, your attention I will claim,
I am only just an Indian, it matters not my name,
But I represent my people, their cause and interest, too;
And in their name and honor, I present myself to you.
They have your sacred promise, your pledge of friendship warm,
That you would always aid them and protect them from all harm,
And in my humble efforts, as I briefly state their case,
Will you pardon my shortcomings, and my errors all erase?
I do not come with grandeur, or boast of any fame,
Rank in politics, society, or wealth I cannot claim,
I never went to college, have no title of LL. D.,
As the Great Spirit made me, is all that you may see.
With the forces that oppose me, I certainly should pause,
If I were not depending on the justice of my cause.
I am only just an Indian, who here represents his band;
With this simple introduction, I extend to you my hand.
This poem is in the public domain.
for Michael Brown (1996–2014)
Officer, for hours I lay there.
The sun at my back.
My blood running a country
mile between the pavement
and the crown of my head.
No ambulance ever came.
It took a long time to cover my body.
There are politics to death
and here politics performs
its own autopsies. My aunties
say things like, Boy big and black as you.
Then, the prosecution rests.
My neighbors never do. They lose
sleep as the National Guard parades
down Canfield. I heard my blood
was barely dry. I heard there were soldiers
beating their shields like war cries,
my boys holding hands to hold on
through your tear gas. Heard my mother
wandered the streets,
her body trembling
between a sign of a cross
and a fist. I heard a rumor
about riots got started.
Officer, I heard that after so much blood,
the ground develops
a taste for it.
Copyright 2017 © Hafizah Geter. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.
my words are impoverished,
i don’t make cents here
a mouth that has no reason,
has no season
how sad it is that life is bent,
on how well you spoke
a bull’s thistle and a fox’s tail
You had taken your leave when the white man asked You to
You had taken your stance when the white man threatened You to
johnson’s grass and a lady’s thumb
and when their life tipped,
at the end of your rifle
they forgot their words—gook
they forgot their hate—freed
in a morning glory among witch’s grass
the heavens from above see all, she says
21 November 2004
Copyright © 2017 by May Yang. Used with permission of the author.
Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:
(soon they’ll try
your breath out—)
three times in a row:
Stop Stop Stop
In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s
gulping at air—
How should you apply
List all of the people
you would like
Who offers love,
Put a period at the end.
Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.
Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
the bullet is his whole life.
his mother named him & the bullet
was on its way. in another life
the bullet was a girl & his skin
was a boy with a sad laugh.
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body
to take a picture, share a prayer.
oh da horror, oh what a shame
why’d he do that to himself?
they really should stop
getting themselves killed
Copyright © 2015 by Danez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets