I thought I was falling. But instead, I was floating on thin air. And like a dancing piece of paper, I was flown left and right. Like a fancy leaf during spring, I bounced happily but sadly, I had to fall. Now desperately, for no reason whatsoever, can’t wait for next season. To fly again, or maybe shyly drop. But if I fall, like Shai, I will be sure that we are friends.
When art breaks, paint spills. When my heart aches; it’s because not even pills would heal me of your portions. I can’t see any other mural or painting better than ours; but what we have isn’t the real deal. I can’t be a solo artist without your direction, yet I have to. I can’t ignore what we made, yet I want to. So I can’t help but thank the strokes of your brush; for when I was empty – you filled me. When I was undiscovered – you saw me. When I was ruined – you fixed me. And just as I was starting to glow in your light – you left me, illuminated.
— Your piece of work.
Maya Angelou wrote like a prosetry goddess. From the first page of her 1969 autobiography: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, to the last, words rhyme and dance as pages turn. The book details Maya’s early years— an incredible and moving tale of how an African-American woman defied rape, racism, segregation, black skin, ugly kinky hair and all odds, to find closure, forgiveness, and become outstanding.
The story kicks off soon after three-year-old Maya and her beloved brother, four-year-old, Bailey Jnr. are sent off like cargo, by their separated parents, to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their larger than life grandmother Annie Henderson, whom they refer to as Momma. “The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming. It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embraces a stranger’s child. Warmly, but not too familiarly.” Momma, popularly referred to as Sister Henderson by many, is the only Negro owning a store in Stamps that stocks all sorts of essentials for all, from canned fish, beef, flour to thread and sugar.
Momma’s famed store, church and school, become the only world Maya and Bailey know while growing up. They also live with Momma’s son, their crippled uncle Willie. It’s the 1930s and racism is at its high. Being black is hard and bad enough. When a white duo, teachers from a nearby school come into their store, for the first time in her life Maya sees her uncle struggle to stand still and upright, pretending not to be crippled. She writes, “He must have tired of being crippled, as prisoners tire of penitentiary bars and the guilty tire of blame.” This, she says, was the first time she felt like she understood and empathized with him the most.
Certain aspects of the book are insightful and carry with them circumstances that shape Maya’s future policies and identity. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, the name Maya comes about as a result of Bailey’s inability to refer to his sister by name. To him, she was just his. “After Bailey learned definitely that I was his sister, he refused to call me Marguerite, but rather addressed me each time as “Mya Sister,” and in later more articulate years, after the need for brevity had shortened the appellation to “My,” it was elaborated into Maya.” While aged eight, Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend – a situation that traumatized her to the extent of being dumb for years. “Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people and they’d curl up and die … I had to stop talking … I was called impudent and my muteness sullenness when I refused to be a child …” This begins to be Maya’s relationship with scrutiny, silence and literature.
Maya’s interest in reading and poetry is mentored by a Negro, the fancy Mrs. Flowers, whom Maya credits as the person who gave her the first of lessons of living: “She said that I must be always intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors.” Growing up in Stamps, then a little unknown town in the countryside, allows Maya to later look at the world differently and appreciate every single bit of what it offered, while blind to tragedy and prejudice. She says, “The resignation of Stamps’ inhabitants encouraged me to relax. Their decision to be satisfied with life’s inequities was a lesson for me.”
One time, the only white dentist in Stamps denies Momma and Maya an appointment just because Maya is a black kid. This is despite Momma having lent him money in the past, a favour he hadn’t returned. When Bailey witnesses the uncovering of a Negro murdered and dumped while tied up like a mummy, Momma moves Maya and Bailey from Stamps to city life with Vivian Baxter for good.
Every difficulty and disappointment Maya encounters while growing up, until teenage years, moulds her razor-sharp memory, strong character and gift of forgiveness/arbitration. Despite growing up hardships and the difficulty of healing from rape, Maya still finds strength in the power of love, and family (even though disjointedly). She goes on to build a solid relationship with her brother (whom she refers to her Kingdom Come) and mother, Vivian Baxter. “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow,” she writes in escape of words to describe Vivian’s flamboyance, beauty and guts.
By the age of seventeen, Maya becomes the first black person to operate a streetcar in San Francisco. She’s also slept in dumped cars, lived with street children, and got herself a baby boy— Guy Johnson. Her mother’s mentorship, belief in her greatness, together with Maya’s long-term assertiveness and power of knowing intelligence and wanting to only associate with greatness, must have been the propellers of Maya’s great legacy-to-be.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird, because of the juvenile narration, by younger Maya and nine-year-old Scout Jean Louise, respectively. Both books heavily feature themes of racism and segregation. There’s a lot of beauty in the narrators’ innocence and impression of adult behaviour and the power they’d have had if things were to run their way. This style of literature challenges us all to tap into our inner innocence and realise that like a bird; free or caged—it’s up to us to sing whatever song we deem fit.
BONUS: May Maya rest in eternal peace. And her books, poetry, drive and powerful words and that trembling deep voice continue to inspire us all. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the most highly acclaimed of Angelou’s autobiographies. The book, one of a seven-volume series ends just as Guy is born to a young single and happy mother. Watch the below video of Maya’s son response to the question he’s been asked 1000 times.
Like electricity wires; red, yellow, green, white and black – we are so different yet can’t work without one another. We are so hot, even when times are cold. We are so on, even when the lights are out. We are so happy, even when the world isn’t. We are so bright, even when it’s dull outside. Inside, our light burns so bright, even without fuel. Short circuit or perfection, our only rule of law is to dream big, and make love.
Like bees are to sweet-smelling flowers, my body gravitates towards your hues. Your soft pastels fused in my crayon make me lose control in a kaleidoscope. I can’t cope with you, and I can’t cope without you. But I can Warhol us into some kind of work. I am not sure if it will make it into any sort of hall of fame but inside our little frame; it matters a lot that we are Impressionists. We want to paint using the colours of love even in pain. We want to pay for more even in loss. We want to recreate our dreams and repaint our sorrows. We want so much, yet a little bit of us lies between our work table. More for less.
As I gaze at lost scenes, in which we used to star in, and the things we used to do, I feel sad. I feel bad that we knew what it meant to love but never met each other half way across the journey. I am sorry I lost you. I am sorry you lost me. I am sorry you don’t see my beauty anymore. I am sorry I don’t see your charm, candour or through your eyes anymore.
Why must I see your shadow everywhere I go?
I spot a man in a well-fitting suit and think of you. I wonder what kind of style you dig; and if love is a type of ocean, how deep would you sink? Would you float in emotions and let it carry you away? I see a man in headphones and think of you. I wonder if I’ll forever be alone or like the music he listens to, soothes his heart; you will be to me, you will be mine. Like fine wine, I want a love that matures into fruition. I want a love that takes me to a place of no contemplation but satisfaction and guarantee that my partner will be by my side; to tuck me in, hold me close, make me tea, share everything; from life’s teachings and challenges to achieving the highest chi.
I spot a man holding his partner lovingly and think of you. I wonder what kind of arms and hands you have. I wonder if they are strong enough to shelter me from the storm. Are they able to carry me home when I am injured, hurt, lonely, troubled or in need of our silent and peaceful place? Your hands must be made to fit in mine, for I haven’t yet met someone whose hands locked in mine, felt perfect. I haven’t yet met someone whose love fused in mine felt absolute and doubtless. I think of your lips. How will they taste in mine? Maybe as fresh as our love or tasteless, for we will be one of the same in disguise of a kiss.
I spot a smart, caring, brilliant, supportive and understanding man and think of you. Are these some of your qualities? Are these the qualities that make a man? I need you to be more than these qualities. Your presence will be a rarity, for like a gem you must be; hard to find and hard to tap. Like a game I must be, hard to pin and hard to trap. You will be man enough to say you are sorry and man enough to prepare a meal for your lady. I will be woman enough to surrender to all your needs. Your first job will be taking care of me and us, before anything else. Your drive will be my passion and together with our love we’ll mould our relationship’s strongest quality.
For a brief moment human beings brush shoulders with déjà vu. All of a sudden, people, places and things start to exist within us. Like hues, we can see what can’t be touched. We can taste and tersely grasp at what we don’t have. In the moment, the dead come alive. We create new people. Unrequited love is requited. And lost ones like moments return. Nostalgic songs and voices become brand new—the magic hardly lasts. In this moment, the skies are blue and the breeze is whispering into my ear. In this moment I stop to gaze at the world. I stop to gaze at myself though the mirror. Inspired, I realize that I write you love poems, but you never read any. That’s just because I have met nobody but your shadow.
I love the way it feels. This thing called happiness. It’s like a long-lasting taste of Apple Waffles and syrup. It’s like a non-hasty affair that leaves the inner soul able to feel free. I love the way it feels. This thing called friendship. It’s like a strong old rope, passed on land and into the seas, beat and weathered, and we are its strands intertwined. It’s like how good wine feels down the throat, and unrelated, how secure it feels just to stand by you. I love the way it feels. This thing called music. It’s like the drug I never took that leaves me high and sometimes jet-lagged, yet I never really left the ground. It feels as good as when we sway to the beat. The same way, I want to hear your heart beat, rhythmically. I love the way it sounds: Bang. Bang. Bang. I love how the business of loving life, and loving you feels. It’s like a great song without any words. Portions of love, easier felt than said.
If you can read, that’s because I can write for you. If you can feel me, that’s of course why I can see through you. And if you can see through this, then we are free. Like two artists, let’s paint a picture of our world to share with the world. I will be the canvas,and you will be the brush. I will follow your lead and you won’t need any more paint or materials. Let’s use the colours of pain and the colours of love to create immaterial art that couldn’t be sold, even for a million bob. For beauty and inspiration is not like gold or silver but priceless. Like a white candle, let’s burn the rekindled flame carelessly yet gracefully.
I am thankful for the sun, because it’s rays inspire me to shine as bright. I am glad when it rains because, I feel like I am not the only one who cries but the clouds too have a story to tell. Wet earth smelling of chocolates reminds me of freshness. It reminds me of the careless disregard we sometimes have for life’s simple pleasures. I am thankful for the morning breeze, swift and whispering, it tells me that it’s a brand new day and that tomorrow will not be the same but a better day.
I am thankful that everything is interconnected and that our essence is the appreciation that we are all brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, or if you are right or wrong. It only matters that we are all humans, prone to fault and fall. But like Maya says, we rise. The sunset makes me aspire to rest easy and gracefully. It lasts just minutes or seconds but leaves a profound feeling that lasts till daybreak. I want to leave that kind of impression, for our lives are brief, yet filled with beauty and awe and pain and lessons, that don’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters is how our light illuminates.
I am thankful for family and friends. I am thankful for fans and black roses readers. Your little thank you’s and comments make me want to walk more on this path of life. They make me want to write you more and more sweet nothings. Your smiles and little gestures make my heart big. You make my heart beat. Because of that my soul gets inspired to dance to the beat of the music that everyday endeavours plays me. I am thankful for the music that inspires me, for the books that taught me, how little can be more and how less is more. I am grateful for the man whose interests were cemented in mine, and mine echoed his, even when is gone. I shine in his absence and therefore make him present in me.