Saturday, July 1, 2017

"I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God. If God loves me, if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees, then what is it I can't do?" — Maya Angelou

        A little over three years ago last month, Maya Angelou, a fellow Arkansan, passed into the company of saints and will be missed and yet remembered for a long, long time.  I highly recommend her work, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.”  She was a poet of unusual and exceptional gifts, and when I was a professor of English, I always taught her poetry, especially the ones about Arkansas to my Arkansas students.  Her son, Guy B. Johnson, wrote, “She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”  She was the only African-American poet who wrote and read a poem for the inauguration of a U.S. President.  She was a wonderful woman and a very real role model for millions of African-American women and for all women.  In her book, “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes” she writes, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”  It was an ache she had suffered and for which she has found solace at last.  One of the poems I always taught was called “My Arkansas” that she wrote about Arkansas in the 50’s.  For those who remember, it was in Little Rock in 1954 that President Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to protect the first African-American students to attend Central High School—where my cousin was a student at the time and where my mother had graduated many years before.  Maya Angelou knew what was coming, that blood would be shed, that Arkansas would be changed forever, and that things that used to be—would be no more.  Here are her words:

There is a deep brooding
In Arkansas.
Old crimes like moss pend
From poplar trees.
The sullen earth
Is too much too
Red for comfort.

Sunrise seems to hesitate
And in that second
Lose its
Incandescent aim, and
Dusk no more shadows
Than the noon.
The past is brighter yet

Old hates and
Ante-bellum lace, are rent
But not discarded
Today is yet to come
In Arkansas.
It writhes. It writhes in awful
Waves of brooding.

We may have lost a great light, but it was one that has lighted so many others that their flames will never be extinguished.  Her poetry has made us all richer and her life brought light into the darkened lives of so many.  May God continue to grant her the grace and peace that she so richly deserves.
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