What I’m Reading Now (Complete Poetry)

Blog is back at last, following a month of work and flu and who knows what.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote (rough translation), “One is not what one writes but what one has read.” Today I feel better defined – humble and enlightened to read my friend Thelma’s birthday gift of Maya Angelou’s The Complete Poetry.

Some of these poems are familiar and bring joy once more. “Still I Rise” with those lines “’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells/Pumping in my living room.”

And of course the elegy addressed to “All the World’s Citizens, Who Lost a Friend When President Nelson Mandela Died.” Through the magic of her words, she draws the peoples of South Africa together with those of us in the States who watched, inspired, as he walked out of prison and healed the suffering of a nation. “Even here in America/We felt the cool/Refreshing breeze of Freedom/When Nelson Mandela took/The seat of the presidency…”

Many others in this 308-page collection are new to me: “Song for the Old Ones,” which opens with “My Fathers sit on benches,” continues: “There in those pleated faces/I see the auction block/the chains and slavery’s coffles/the whip and lash and stock.” Stark images stand juxtaposed against the wisdom of the elders.

“Willie” refers to the uncle that she describes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. There, young Maya’s grandmother hides the disabled Willie under piles of onions to protect him from a lynch mob. In the poem, he’s “Crippled and limping, always walking lame,” but he says, “ ‘I may cry and I will die,/But my spirit is the soul of every spring,/Watch for me and you will see/That I’m present in the songs that children sing.’ ” He didn’t have much of a voice in the essay. Here, It is at once comforting and revealing that here he speaks with the voice of hope and uplift.

I started reading the poems in the order presented. Now I’m just dipping in and out and shall cherish this collection for many years to come. If I am what I read, then I’m filled with the harsh reality of suffering and with sublime beauty and grace.

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