For over a decade, "Still, I Rise..." was at the top of my syllabi for writing courses, inspired, of course, by Dr. Angelou. Always printed on bright red paper, I was utilizing the poetics of color to illustrate the temporary nature of oppression. You cannot stop evolution. Kill the immortal. Dim the light of the Sun. Take the Moon out of the night sky. Or make dry the vast oceans. You cannot break an unbreakable soul. Cannot defeat those destined to triumph. Try, and try again as you may. Victory never goes to the spoiled.
Between bouts of tears, I imagined Dr. Angelou talking to me with that wonderfully familiar bemused expression, "Today is not a difficult day; it is just the day I died. But my spirit, you can clearly see (laughing, waving her arms gracefully), lives on. And ever still, I rise...."
She goes on to tell me more; some are secrets. Others are words I can share, but only on paper. No matter what she tells me, the tears well, swell and trail like impregnated rain drops down my tan cheeks. I feel like I lost a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a colleague, the sunlight, the dark, the heat of day, the cool of night. The air is oddly still. The movement of the world has slowed, stopped, and there is no oxygen left for my lungs.
But I have to somehow continue to breathe.
The irony of the half-eaten package of Oreos next to me is not lost. Neither is the memory of her infectious laugh; I can hear it echo off the gates of heaven as she looks down, smiling. She puts her hand to her mouth as she shouts, "Don't forget to eat one for me!" Yet I've eaten enough for three...
Dr. Angelou was living history. Her mind, a piece of the human genius-puzzle. She was not just a cultural voice, at once witnessing and demanding social change. She was real. Genuine. She never gave up on love, or, life. Her courage will continue to inspire mine: "If you love, you must truly love. There is no stop sign."
She was always very vague about the number of times she married; she did not want to seem "frivolous." But her willingness to take risks on love, risks that took her all over the world, is the ambrosia that fed the divinity of her poetic prose.
Now that you're gone, what will feed mine?
A selfish question, to be sure. She would approve, nonetheless. But only if I asked in order to seek out new inspiration, not to loiter on already limp laurels.
Two months ago, while in Atlanta for work, I dreamt of Angelou, of Coretta Scott King, James Earl Jones, and an interlude with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his death. Which is, of course, impossible. Dr. King was killed four years before I was even born.
King had given me sage advice. and after his passing, in the dream, I was asked to speak about it at a Memorial his wife had organized. Dr. Angelou and Mr. Jones were also speakers. I cannot now remember Dr. King's exact words, but they were meaningful to my life's course, encouraging. Being in Atlanta, where King was from, made the dream-experience that much more powerful. Because, for King, some of his most famous words began with, "I have a dream...."
And I do.
With diamonds between my thighs, and in my eyes, I shine, rise, dance, laugh. A caged bird no more, I fly. My song can be heard from the bluest of blue skies, seen by love's bluest of blue eyes. Leaping on the back of the wind as I wing my way through sighing trees. No more standing on the grave of dreams, dreaming of unknown yet longed for things. With wings dipped in the orange sun, I name the sky my own.
I name it for you, too.