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A. Van Jordan

Vestiges

About this Poem 

“I’ve been returning, again and again, to Rilke, and so this poem borrows a good deal of its structure from him. Also, I turned fifty this year, and one of my meditations has been on how often experiences and lessons from my past, some good and some bad, come back to me—guiding my steps, providing strength—in the present.”
A. Van Jordan

Vestiges

A. Van Jordan, 1965

I would like to swim in the Atlantic,
to swim with someone who understood
why my fear of drowning plays less dire

than my fear of bones, walking the ocean floor.
I would like to sync my stroke with a beloved.
I’d like to stand on deck on a boat

and jump in the sea and say, follow me,
and know you would. The sea is cold
and it’s deep, too
, I’d joke,

standing at the edge of the boat’s bow.
A wind breathes across the sea,
joining gently the edges of time.

With a dog paddling behind me,
I want to crawl across the water
without thinking about a future.

I have set my eyes upon the shore
and I hold you there—steady, in focus—
but let you go when, from below,

a voice breaks to the surface.

Copyright © 2015 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 27, 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.