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Morgan Parker

The Book of Genesis

About this Poem 

“In writing this poem I was interested in coopting the idea of a biblical origin story and utilizing biblical imagery to tell a personal narrative about childhood and becoming self-aware. This is a poem not so much about the genesis of a self or a people, but about the genesis of understanding one’s difference, one’s relationship to others, and one’s allowances and restrictions.”
Morgan Parker

The Book of Genesis

Morgan Parker

Once I was:
lone brown spot
in a garden

of upright stems
They said
what do you have to say

let your dry lips open
let cocoa powder
rain onto our desks

they stared at me
for six days
as if I were a peach pit

as if by lunchtime
I would be swallowed
into the sandbox

like a dream   They led me
to a sink made me
wash my hands in cold oil

I was a temple
angels are watching over
they chanted

until I never slept
my eyes turned purple
with guilt and imagination

they never let me eat
the stale body or fill
my ribs with bitter juice

they led me to an apple tree
I swear to God
told me to sit and wait

until my earrings got heavy
and I could see right through
the whole damn city

these days I think
I can find truth in song
as if it started inside me

these days I think
a powdered rock
could save us

cold oils of a stranger’s tongue
and I sleep with
my hands in little fists

tucked close to my chin
this is the way my people
have slept for years

O garden of soiled light
I believe in
different reasons

Copyright © 2015 by Morgan Parker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Copyright © 2015 by Morgan Parker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

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Sam Beam of Iron & Wine at Poetry & the Creative Mind, New York City, 2015. Photo credit: Jennifer Trahan.
poem

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Maya Angelou
1978
Alberto Ríos at the Southwestern Poetry Festival, New York Historical Society, 1991
collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Each week we feature a new term from Academy Chancellor Edward Hirsch's April 2014 book A Poet's Glossary. Ten years in the making, Hirsch's book is an international, inclusive collection of the poetic terms that define the art form.