Soul Search

why do you let them?

come and leave?

like them and

love you, too?

what is the reason

behind settling for

sticks and stones?

for dimming your glow?

how come half their heart

is good enough for all or

your soul?

you bend back and break

bones for themin your home–

and yet they are allowed to stay

and make a mess of you.

why do you let them?

by Alex Elle

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On Returning Home To Nana’s

a small hair sprouts

defying the odds

bursting through the surface

only to crinkle and bend

like palm trees in the wind

coconut oil eases the shaft

from root to ends

smooth, dipping my curls

into the Atlantic

becoming one with the island

and the wave

and the nappiness

of my kitchen

the way she might have as a child on family vacations

her thick black locs hang

like freedom

and nooses

and mangoes

strong and sweet as sugarcane

standing up

resisting gravity

and the box that bottles beauty

5. From The Book Of David: dancer

I have ruled

for forty years,

seven in hebron

thirty-three in Jerusalem

 

I have lain under the stars

and dreamed of foreign women.

I have dreamed my legs around them,

dancing.

 

some nights,

holding them in the dream,

I would feel us

swallowed by the sky.

 

lately I have begun to bed

with virgins,

their round breasts warm

to an old man.

 

I hold my seed

still plentiful as stars.

it is not my time.

 

somewhere something is choosing.

I can feel it dancing in me,

something to do with

virgins and with stars.

 

I am grown old and full of days.

my thighs are trembling.

what will the world remember,

what matters to time,

I wonder,

the dancer or the dance?

–Lucille Clifton

A Brief Guide To Walking Home Alone. While Female. And Black. And in the Hood.

Don’t smile

for some reason smiling is a sin that tempts the devil inside most people to cross that line

between polite and creepy

Don’t fear the boys who follow you

like dogs sniffing at the scent of your heels pressing the pavement

running will only encourage those emboldened by the cover of night

Never slouch or try to disappear into yourself

this will only make them want you more

Hold your chin parallel to the ground

more often than not they just want the queen they see gliding by to soften

to cuddle their crusted over sense of rage and rejection

to hold not knowing how so they reach out and grab

You remind them of ma and grandma pounding yam in the kitchen before dinner

of Sunday school mornings and hide-and-go-freak evenings

of their first dirty magazine

and the embarrassment of not knowing how to kiss because no one tells them what they’re expected to know

Don’t offend when skulked

Watch your shadow in a reflection

it will meet a person too close

before your eyes do

Don’t back down when challenged

and balance your bags on both shoulders

Don’t let that comment burrow inside

I know you’re tired

but home is waiting just there

and that place

you should keep safe…

and defend

by any means

necessary.

Africa

Thus she had lain

sugar cane sweet

deserts her hair

golden her feet

mountains her breasts

two Niles her tears

Thus she has lain

Black through the years.

Over the white seas

rime white and cold

brigands ungentled

icicle bold

took her young daughters

sold her strong sons

churched her with Jesus

bled her with guns.

Thus she has lain.

Now she is rising

remember her pain

remember the losses

her screams loud and vain

remember her riches

her history slain

now she is striding

although she had lain.

–Maya Angelou

1994

i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when a thumb of ice
stamped itself hard near my heart

you have your own story
you know about the fear the tears
the scar of disbelief

you know that the saddest lies
are the ones we tell ourselves
you know how dangerous it is

to be born with breats
you know how dangerous it is
to wear dark skin

i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when i woke into the winter
of a cold and mortal body

thin icicles hanging off
the one mad nipple weeping

have we not been good children
did we not inherit the earth

but you must know all about this
from your own shivering life

–Lucille Clifton

To A Young Painter

To show the lab’ring bosom’s deep intent,

And thought in living characters to paint,
When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight?
Still, wond’rous youth! each noble path pursue,
On deathless glories fix thine ardent view:
Still may the painter’s and the poet’s fire
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire!
And may the charms of each seraphic theme
Conduct thy footsteps to immortal fame!
High to the blissful wonders of the skies
Elate thy soul, and raise thy wishful eyes.
–Phyllis Wheatley

I Know You Rest In Peace

Maya Angelou, my hero, died at age 86 in her beautiful home in North Carolina today.

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” said her son, Guy B. Johnson.

Her poem “Still I Rise,” was the first I ever recited, ever memorized, ever performed, and ever loved. As a kid her words found me in a dark place when no one else’s did, and continue to inspire me to rise beyond who I was. My only hope is that she passed knowing that she moved countless generations to poetry, and that she fermented a love of language that could leap oceans.

Inaugural, outstanding poet, will never cover how much Maya Angelou meant to the literary community. Her life and works awe millions. So I challenge you this day, in honor of a woman who was always more than just a poet, to rise above and believe that words can make a difference. In truth, they are the only things that have ever infected and effected change.

 

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 1928
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
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.Maya Angelou in Oil