Maya Angelou. A Brave and Startling Truth

aix-3-armenios HCH 10 / May 2016

Maya Angelou. A Brave and Startling Truth, by Jennifer Prestholdt

Originally published on The Human Warrior on May 28, 2014

There are few voices that embed themselves in your heart and brain and deep-down soul like the voice of Maya Angelou. Of all her poems, the one that has embedded itself most deeply in my soul is the one that this grand dame of literature wrote for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations. The first stanza incorporates language from the United Nations Charter. The rest is pure Maya Angelou –the gorgeous description, the unwillingness to shy away from the ugliness that was part of her life and remains part of all human existence.

She was so brilliant! She will be missed, but we are better for her time –and her words– on this small and lonely planet.

A Brave and Startling Truth, by Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet.

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

It is possible and imperative that we learn

A brave and startling truth.

 

And when we come to it

To the day of peacemaking

When we release our fingers

From fists of hostility

And allow the pure air to cool our palms.

 

When we come to it

When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate

And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean

When battlefields and coliseum

No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters

Up with the bruised and bloody grass

To lie in identical plots in foreign soil.

 

When the rapacious storming of the churches

The screaming racket in the temples have ceased

When the pennants are waving gaily

When the banners of the world tremble

Stoutly in the good, clean breeze.

 

When we come to it

When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders

And children dress their dolls in flags of truce

When land mines of death have been removed

And the aged can walk into evenings of peace

When religious ritual is not perfumed

By the incense of burning flesh

And childhood dreams are not kicked awake

By nightmares of abuse.

 

When we come to it

Then we will confess that not the Pyramids

With their stones set in mysterious perfection

Nor the Gardens of Babylon

Hanging as eternal beauty

In our collective memory

Not the Grand Canyon

Kindled into delicious color

By Western sunsets.

 

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe

Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji

Stretching to the Rising Sun

Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,

Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores

These are not the only wonders of the world.

 

When we come to it

We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe

Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger

Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace

We, this people on this mote of matter

In whose mouths abide cankerous words

Which challenge our very existence

Yet out of those same mouths

Come songs of such exquisite sweetness

That the heart falters in its labor

And the body is quieted into awe.

 

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet

Whose hands can strike with such abandon

That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living

Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness

That the haughty neck is happy to bow

And the proud back is glad to bend

Out of such chaos, of such contradiction

We learn that we are neither devils nor divines.

 

When we come to it

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body

Created on this earth, of this earth

Have the power to fashion for this earth

A climate where every man and every woman

Can live freely without sanctimonious piety

Without crippling fear.

 

When we come to it

We must confess that we are the possible

We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world

That is when, and only when

We come to it.

 

HCH-3-jennifer-prestholdt Jennifer Prestholdt, Minneapolis, May 28, 2014

More articles by Jennifer in Jennifer’s corner

Advertisements