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Lyrical and cadent, dramatic and sometimes playful, these poems speak of love, longing, parting; of freedom and shattered dreams; of Saturday-night partying and the smells and sounds of Southern cities.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?
AWAKING IN NEW YORK
Curtains forcing their will against the wind, children sleep, exchanging dreams with seraphim. The city drags itself awake on subway straps; and I, an alarm, awake as a rumor of war, lay stretching into dawn, unasked and unheeded.
A GOOD WOMAN FEELING BAD
The blues may be the life you’ve led Or midnight hours in An empty bed. But persecuting Blues I’ve known Could stalk Like tigers, break like bone,
Pend like rope in A gallows tree, Make me curse My pedigree,
Bitterness thick on A rankling tongue, A psalm to love that’s Left unsung,
Rivers heading north But ending South, Funeral music In a going-home mouth.
All riddles are blues, And all blues are sad, And I’m only mentioning Some blues I’ve had.
THE HEALTH-FOOD DINER
No sprouted wheat and soya shoots And Brussels in a cake, Carrot straw and spinach raw, (Today, I need a steak).
Not thick brown rice and rice pilau Or mushrooms creamed on toast, Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed, (I’m dreaming of a roast).
Health-food folks around the world Are thinned by anxious zeal, They look for help in seafood kelp (I count on breaded veal).
No Smoking signs, raw mustard greens, Zucchini by the ton, Uncooked kale and bodies frail Are sure to make me run
Loins of pork and chicken thighs And standing rib, so prime, Pork chops brown and fresh ground round (I crave them all the time).
Irish stews and boiled corned beef and hot dogs by the scores, or any place that saves a space For smoking carnivores.
Maya Angelou was raised in Stamps, Arkansas. In addition to her bestselling autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Heart of a Woman, she wrote numerous volumes of poetry, among them Phenomenal Woman, And Still I Rise, On the Pulse of Morning, and Mother. Maya Angelou died in 2014.