“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
I was born among the bodies. I was hurried
forward, and sealed a thin life for myself.
I have shortened my name, and walk with
a limp. I place pebbles in milk and offer
them to my children when there is nothing
else. We can not live on cold blood alone.
In a dream, I am ungendered, and the moon
is just the moon having a thought of itself.
I am a wolf masked in the scent of its prey
and I am driven—hawk like—to the dark
center of things. I have grasped my eager
heart in my own talons. I am made of fire,
and all fire passes through me. I am made
of smoke and all smoke passes through me.
Now the bodies are just calcified gravity,
built up and broken down over the years.
Somewhere there are phantoms having their
own funerals over and over again. The same
scene for centuries. The same moon rolling
down the gutter of the same sky. Somewhere
they place a door at the beginning of a field
and call it property. Somewhere, a tired man
won’t let go of his dead wife’s hand. God
is a performing artist working only with
light and stone. Death is just a child come to
take us by the hand, and lead us gently away.
Fear is the paralyzing agent, the viper that
swallows us living and whole. And the devil,
wears a crooked badge, multiplies everything
by three. You—my dark friend. And me.
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.
This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.
To celebrate Academy of American Poets Chancellor Juan Felipe Herrera's appointment in 2015 as the twenty-first Poet Laureate of the United States, we’ve compiled the following collection of photographs, essays, exclusive video, and poems.