America, January 27, 2017 or We Are the Germans

© Lana Hechtman Ayers

 

Terror, anger, shame.

 

I wonder If this is how
the German people felt—
the ones who cobbled shoes,
the ones who rose early
to bake bread,
the ones who rocked
babies in their arms
and sang guten Morgen—

 

I wonder if this is how
the German people felt
when they saw
what they had done,
chosen a monster
to lead their country.

 

Instead of yards full of chickens,
and pockets full of deutsche marks,
the German people were treated to
streets swept clean of their unclean
neighbors, and courtyards
full of dust and darkness,
uniformed men with brutal
hands to patrol the land with pride.

 

I wonder if those Germans
who tended their gardens,
or who kept books
for the mom and pop markets,
or who constructed those fine
Mercedes Benz limousines
piece by elegant piece—

 

I wonder if this is how
those Germans felt,
the way Americans do now,
only a few days after our
new leader has assumed office
and signed the proclamation
stating Muslims aren’t welcome
on our American soil.

 

Terror, anger, shame.

 

I wonder if those Germans
bit their tongues to blood,
or worried their knuckles raw.
Did they feel any sorrow at all,
or did they simply lay
their heads on pillows
and wind the alarm clocks
for another day?

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Maya Angelou, Goosebumps & Phenomenal Wisdom

Maya Angelou, Goosebumps & Phenomenal Wisdom

 

Maya Angelou’s work and words have had a powerful influence on my life and my own work. Writing that goes straight to the heart is what I love to read and what I endeavor to write.

maya heart

I had the good fortune to hear Maya Angelou speak in 1999. My skin tingled with gooseflesh and my heart beat in my throat as she gave a commencement address. She told the graduating class “Each of us has the possibility of being a composer, to compose the climate in which one lives…To indeed compose the neighborhood, to compose the melody of life, to compose the richness of it. To decide, ‘I will have a climate in which all men and women must be treated equal. I will compose that.’” Her voice was strong, otherworldly, powerful. Her eyes shone. The audience held its breath. Courage is key, she said, to be able to compose. “Courage, and more courage.”

maya feel

In my own life and in my writing, I try to be as courageous as I can be. I know I need to do more. But I lay claim to this composition of justice and fairness. I move characters from situations of inequality to positions of power.  In my dealings with others, I offer kindness and respect. I am imperfect, but trying to be better every day.

maya permission

These 15 years later, the world we are living in is still a work in progress toward Angelou’s dream of courageous composition. And though we have made great strides, there is so much more to do. I look to her words again for  solace.

maya defeat

I want a better, more equal, less violent world for everyone. I want to make stories that project the possibility of positive change.  I want to offer hope.

maya rainbow

Maya is definitely the rainbow in my frequently overcast disposition. This  poem from And Still I Rise, which gives every woman permission to proclaim herself as a phenomenal being, will always be my favorite of hers:

 

Phenomenal Woman

 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

maya amazing

 

I gave up on being normal a long time ago. I’m working on amazing and phenomenal.

I am deeply indebted to you, Maya Angelou, for all your wisdom and inspiration.

 

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