Yesterday I was asked by an African-American, female chaplain to read this poem aloud at the palliative care conference at the university. It is ostensibly about the struggle of the black woman in America, and a black woman in particular (Ms Angelou), but Rev. Hepburn was using it as a way to open dialogue about the black cultural mythology surrounding illness and death. The act of reading it was powerful and brought tears to my eyes. I returned to my seat empowered in a way I didn’t anticipate.
I hadn’t read this poem before yesterday nor had I met Rev. Hepburn and she does not know me or my story. She told me later that she believes in following the Holy Spirit and she clearly heard the spirit tell her this poem needed to be read in my voice. I will forever be grateful to her for following the spirit’s urging to use my voice and I have no idea why or what purpose it served for her presentation to have a little, blond, white woman read it, but God had a clear message for my heart in these words and in the act of standing behind a microphone to declare them aloud. I am inspired to embrace my own culture, my own body, my own changing roles; to find and embrace my own ‘womanist’ voice and declare for myself:
Still I rise.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread 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 back yard.
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
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.