Poet and activist Maya Angelou passed away today, and to contextualize just how much the loss means to the literary community, we reached out to Jamaica Plain resident poet-at-arms Donald Vincent.
As a kid growing up in Southeast, Washington, DC, my favorite month during the school year was February. Not just because it was the shortest month of the calendar year, but because it was Black History Month. It was the time we held our annual assembly where different classes and grades paid homage to our ancestors. It was also a time (one of the few I might add) that I learned about people who shared the same skin color as me—the same story, the same obstacles.
Because of Black History Month, I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Ben Carson, and George Washington Carver. I was also introduced to the work of our recently deceased literary icon Maya Angelou. Her life’s journey showed me that we, as beings, are able to rise above all matters when there’s a will.
In this very digital age, I found about her passing on Twitter. I quickly checked Google to verify, and when a credible source’s headline read that she died at 86, my heart felt heavy. We tend to mourn over public figures a lot as a part of our human nature. But we shouldn’t stop at mourning. We need to carry on the torch as artists, as spokespersons, as people. While my timelines are flooded with quotes, photos, and a mixture of disgust of people’s public admiration and sadness, we must remember that her song will continue to play through our hearts. Even though America has lost a central figure to its civil rights movement, we must remember, like the free bird, that we need to keep rising.
FREE BIRD FINALLY FLIES
What would the air say?
Where does a song go
When there’s no one left
To sing it? Silence!
Not woman, not art,
Nor irascible, nor tart.
But Goddess of solace,
Hope takes an eternity,
And the bars of disparage
Disappeared with the whispers
Of your last breaths.
America is still a cage or
Jukebox with no change or
Shackling cackles of the radio
Airwaves on AM stations or
The chirp of unwanted work emails,
Facebook statuses of your passing,
Unwarranted, notable, and quotable
Tweets, a celebration of soul and song,
These bars are never-lasting. Hate is
A welcoming prison—liberate yourself
With the melodies of love because
Silence is you, the poet lost
In an unfamiliar tribe. The air-
An untranslatable language immune
To the minds of the anguished.
[Photo Credit: Jack Sotomayor/New York Times]