Sometimes I dream of a slave ship docking at port
& my grandmother has brought me here. She takes my hand
(in the dream I am very young) as we watch the children
disembark. The children are lithe & descend one after
another after another—squinting, lifting their hands to shield
their eyes from the burning light of this new country.
I ask her: But will they be loved? She rubs my head &
says: The lack of it isn’t the worst thing to happen
to them. Think of all the ways what is not love comes for us,
sometimes parading itself as obligation, or the violence
we bear & soon they won’t distinguish one from the other.
The hurt itself will be a kind of attention. A boy hears
us talking & stares right back at me. He is black, blacker
than anyone I’d ever seen—iridescent, glowing with it.
I’m so moved that I dart between the guards toward him
& hold him in my arms & where I touch him, feathers
grow. The boy sprouts wings & lifts from the earth.
We are transfixed—me & grandmamma & children & the guards-
gazing upward. At first, he careens away, then back toward us
only to ascend, blacking out the sun until he climbs
high enough that he is swallowed by it altogether.
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.