Letter To My Son
She arose standing six feet tall and she called me by my full name as if she had written and knew my story. She hugged me like I was her son, and invited my godfather and I to sit at her kitchen table. That day at Maya Angelou's home in Winston Salem, North Carolina would be divine, because, she was my kingdom come and I felt she was the true Wizard of Oz.
I was afraid to look at her, though I questioned her fearlessly. My godfather, Les Brown, who was old friends with Dr. Angelou, would battle me for the floor to interrogate her commentary on history. I asked her about James Baldwin and in some genius way her response would somehow lead me back to how divine I was. Mr. Brown asked about W. E. B. Dubois and Dr. Angelou within seconds would recall the last moments she spent with him.
She said, " I was with him the day before he died; I made him laugh at his bedside. He was a great human being."
Wowed at the fact that she knew him I asked her, "What about Langston Hughes?"
She responded, "I was 21 when I met Mr. Hughes. The exact age you are today as you meet me, my darling. You see, he was considered the people's poet and I was singing in a jazz bar and he came in one day and he told me that I would be great one day. I had no idea that I one day would, also, be considered the people's poet as he was."
Hours had gone by and the three of us had lost ourselves in history. So many legendary names had been dropped and stories of honor and inspiration had been told. I learned of the deep friendship between Rayard Rustin and Dr. King. I heard stories of her driving Malcom X around in her compact car in Ghana and of her friendship with Nina Simone. She shared what Billy Holiday told her when she first met her and how it gave her hope.
I asked her what was her message for my generation, those who are like me, those LGBT people of color; her response was, "You David are better than you think you are and more powerful than you could ever imagine." As the words flowed from her mouth they instantly resonated with my soul, though I hadn't fully fathomed their complete meaning.
She continued by sharing a quote from a historical playwright named Terence: " I am a human being, nothing human is alien to me."
She looked at me and said, "Darling, that means that we can do the greatest thing a human has ever done or we can do the worst. We can feed millions like Mother Teresa or we can kill millions like Hitler."
I asked her what her greatest lesson that she had learned thus far and she looked at me and without hesitation said, " I am a daughter of God. There is no good thing I cannot do. I am His child. The same stuff that holds the clouds in the sky and that stuff that races through our veins, that divinity is God and He is within us."
Hours had passed and the conversation had turned to writing and poetry. In the middle of her talking about how there are very few real poets on the earth and the struggle of getting the rest of the world to agree with your work, Les Brown, my godfather, said, "David, what about your poem that you wrote for Maya on the airplane yesterday? Might you read it?"
Dr. Angelou set up straight in her seat and looked first at Mr. Brown then at me and said, "A poem? Poetry?"
I was mortified, I gave Mr. Brown a side-eye that said all of (Just because I wrote some stuff down on the airplane last night in honor and in gratitude for Maya Angelou, doesn't mean it's a poem that I want her to know about, nor read it out loud to her!)
I smiled with fear and replied, "Yes, Dr. Angelou, I wrote a poem yesterday on the plane."
She looked at me and said, "Oh, its not finished. It takes me weeks and months... a year to write a good poem, you wrote one last night on a plane? Work on the poem my darling and send it to me; I'd love to read it then. But the poem is yours and you can choose to read it now."
Everything within me stood still. My stomach and my eyes, my lips and my thighs were locked. But my soul was awake and with clarity it told me to read the poem to her now. At this time Les Brown gave me a look that spoke volumes (Boy! If you read this poem that you threw together and embarrass me in this woman's house... You are not a poet. You are a powerful motivational speaker!).
I looked at Maya Angelou and said, "I'll read the poem now."
She replied, "Very well, proceed."
My hands were trembling! So I took a deep breath to calm myself so that I wouldn't stumble as I read. Clearly and sharply, but still softly, I began:
“There are journeys and there are journeys that become legends...
A black woman
Tall as the heavens
With arms wide enough to hold multitudes
To kings and queens
To jubilant juveniles – smiling in the light of a legacy.
This woman on a journey of vicissitudes
Arriving in ignorance
With plucky and loquacious blood galloping through her veins
Rises into brilliance.
And on this day
Experiencing eight-one years
On this vacillating orb of soot
With uncompromising compassion
Gracefully existing in definition.
And in this moment
A black boy
But towering into manhood
Stands, sits, exist, breathes
With the knowledge that he has been
Barrowed, bought, broken
And now paid for by
Tears crawling down furrow faces
Gnarled by a lifetime of wages earned and embezzled.
And preserved by
Knees darkened and bloated and inflamed
By prayers to God everywhere for his destiny
This black boy
Sayings to you now…
'There are journeys and there are journeys that become legends'
And tribes of
Kings and queens
Prophets and prophetess
Those who are aloof and those nigh
Us that hold the hem of your garment
And eat from you kitchen
Ordinary women and gentle men
We poor and rich who read your words
To celebrate a legacy
To bathe in wisdom
As your arms firmly wrapped around us
And as you supplely release us
We fall and rise
With wings that fit us well
To create our own stories
And with those stories
Our contribution to the world
But certainly with our lives
We forever say
Loudly and softly
'Thank You' "
I bowed my head slowly as I ended my reading. Before anyone could say anything, Mr. Brown weepingly said, "That poem was amaaa..."
Before he could finish Maya Angelou said, "Mr. Brown please be silent. I need to experience this."
When I say to you that silence hit the room. Mrs. Crisp was chopping onions behind us in the kitchen, she ceased. The air conditioner turned off and all the trees nearby stood still. Maya put her hand gently over her mouth and paused for what seemed like a thousand years; so long that I wonder what she might be thinking. I didn't know what to think so I simply waited...
After several minutes of silence, heavy tears tumbled down her soft mocha face. She wiped the tears, but remained silent only to suddenly look at me with shock and what could only be described as utter astonishment. She gazed at me as if I had lied to her. As if I was an imposter, like I was the son of a king, pretending to be poverty stricken.
She looked daringly into my eyes and said, "You're a poet." She turned slowly and looked at Les Brown, the world's most celebrated motivational speaker, and said with confusion written on her face, "He's a poet... He has that stuff, that divinity." Looking at me as she wiped tears from her eyes, "You ARE a poet."
I began to cry. I cried for everything that should had been eventful in my life that only yielded disappointment. I cried because I knew that after those words were released from her lips I would never be the same, for I could never crawl in darkness or unconsciousness again. I could no further stoop to blind ignorance. She told me who I was and everyone in the room saw it. And so 'Caroline stepped into the light.'
As all three of us pulled ourselves together, fixed our faces, ties and shirts, and set up straight in our seats, Maya Angelou wanted to pray a blessing over our lives. I must admit I still have yet to hear a prayer that has moved my existence more deeply. She looked up, over, and above our heads as she laid her hands on our faces and heads: "Father Mother God. I come, I bow, I sit, I lay, I crumple here. I call the angels behind the stars and the giants of the land, that no words would burn their skin for they will fulfill the destiny on their lives. In the name of His bosom where I lay every night, Jesus The Christ."
My hope is that you take this story and the truths it holds as a letter, as a blue print. For the experience itself inspired the trajectory of my life in ways the world has yet to see or experience. I share this story with so much detail, not to impress anyone or to release any kind of press surrounding Maya Angelou'saffirmation of my talents. That press release was noted, affirmed, and took place years ago, which is why I have arrived so purposefully to this place. My true intention is to push you with the same pressure that this awakening experience applied to my life, so much until you see the love in the details. Until you see the letter she wrote on my heart addressed to you. She told me that I was better than I thought I was, that was her response when I asked her what her message was for people like me, the gays of my generation.
I never understood completely what she meant, but I now see completely what God intended for this letter written by Maya on my heart. She told me to keep writing. She never knew that a week before I met her, my creative writing professor told me I was an awful writer. Only years later to publish and edit, DBQ Magazine, the nations most popular publication for 20 & 30 something, gay men of color. Only to be affirmed of my greatness by greatness.
And so I write this letter to you with one major truth to urge gracefully upon you. YOU ARE BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE! And you are a son or a daughter of God. Divinity courses throughout your veins. Go forward and with your gifts, with your abilities, with the many callings, with the crowns you may wear show, go, and tell the world who you are.
Mother Maya, we speak your name.