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.
So I fight all my destructive urges to give her one. A tiny globe
filled with first snow I’m determined not to shatter across blacktop.
Once, in the parking lot of Home Depot, we got into the blue van
& everything felt off, uncanny, a fast-food wrapper from a place
we hadn’t eaten, the dashboard dustier than it should’ve been.
It took us a full thirty seconds, Mom in the driver’s
seat though she hadn’t driven in years, me in the passenger, her ride-
or-die since I was a little girl & one of her only friends in our strange &
tiny border town, before we realized This isn’t our van! & we scrambled
out, laughing our heads off & terrified the owner
had called the cops on the women who look like twins
carjacking them. We laugh about it every time we’re in a parking lot.
That wasn’t our only Lucy & Ethel moment. There was the time
we ordered what we thought was a roll from the drive-
thru at Panera Bread, thinking we’d share it to split the calories
but when the server handed it to us, the long, thin bread kept
coming through the window. Mom & I thought
baguette meant roll, it sounded petit. & although this poem’s
only point is to make Mom happy it’s also to heal
something in myself I hadn’t known needed a balm until the words
hit the page, the way moms know, the way mine sent me flowers
when the love of my young life got another girl pregnant & left me
heartbroken & without a prom date, or when Mom gave me a gold
nutcracker pin after the ballet recital when all the other girls got
flowers & I shoved the beautiful pin back at her because it wasn’t flowers.
And she said flowers wilt. I wanted to get you something
that would last forever. Like her love. A poem can be sentimental
because poems are filled with life, but sometimes we need to look
our moms in the eyes & apologize. Or say thank you.
Our moms remind us what it felt like when we were safe
in their arms, even if our moms weren’t safe, even
if they were only holding it together for us, to give us a happiness
they’d created from thin air. Motherhood is made of that
magic. I’m crying now. Mom, I promise, they’re happy tears.
Copyright © 2023 by Jennifer Givhan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Is there aught you need that my hands withhold,
Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
Lo! I have flung to the East and West
Priceless treasures torn from my breast,
And yielded the sons of my stricken womb
To the drum-beats of duty, the sabres of doom.
Gathered like pearls in their alien graves
Silent they sleep by the Persian waves,
Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands,
They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands,
They are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance
On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France.
Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep
Or compass the woe of the watch I keep?
Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair
And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?
And the far sad glorious vision I see
Of the torn red banners of Victory?
When the terror and tumult of hate shall cease
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought in your dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the deathless ones
Remember the blood of thy martyred sons!
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
I was young when you came to me. Each thing rings its turn, you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing dressed like a convent girl— white socks, shoes, dark blue pinafore, white blouse. A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree— those were the words you gave me. Girl was penne, hair drawn back, gleaming on the scalp, the self in a mirror in a rosewood room the sky at monsoon time, pearl slits In cloud cover, a jagged music pours: gash of sense, raw covenant clasped still in a gold bound book, pusthakam pages parted, ink rubbed with mist, a bird might have dreamt its shadow there spreading fire in a tree maram. You murmured the word, sliding it on your tongue, trying to get how a girl could turn into a molten thing and not burn. Centuries later worn out from travel I rest under a tree. You come to me a bird shedding gold feathers, each one a quill scraping my tympanum. You set a book to my ribs. Night after night I unclasp it at the mirror's edge alphabets flicker and soar. Write in the light of all the languages you know the earth contains, you murmur in my ear. This is pure transport.
From Illiterate Heart by Meena Alexander. Copyright © 2002 by Meena Alexander. Published in 2002 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.