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Maya Angelou on Grandmothers

I shall not be moved...

I went to hear - though it became quickly evident it would be more about FEEL - Maya Angelou speak at a Unique Lives and Experiences Event in Vancouver, many years ago now. She read the following poem. It has haunted me ever since.

There is something in the chorus, I SHALL NOT BE MOVED, that I stand along side of. I have not run ahead of hounds nor been hunted because of my skin but in this piece, I do find myself over and again. Maybe it's because as a mother, daughter, sister and friend, I am enveloped in the collective consciousness of women who have cried against calamity, pulled on the latch of freedom's gate while holding God in their throat, knowing that amidst the joys and the sorrows - THEY/WE/I SHALL NOT BE MOVED.


Our Grandmothers

She lay, skin down on the moist dirt,

the canebrake rustling

with the whispers of leaves, and

loud longing of hounds and

the ransack of hunters crackling the near branches.

She muttered, lifting her head a nod toward freedom,

I shall not, I shall not be moved.

She gathered her babies,

their tears slick as oil on black faces,

their young eyes canvassing mornings of madness.

Momma, is Master going to sell you

from us tomorrow?


Unless you keep walking more

and talking less.


Unless the keeper of our lives

releases me from all commandments.


And your lives,

never mine to live,

will be executed upon the killing floor of innocents.

Unless you match my heart and words,

saying with me,

I shall not be moved.

In Virginia tobacco fields,

leaning into the curve

on Steinway

pianos, along Arkansas roads,

in the red hills of Georgia,

into the palms of her chained hands, she

cried against calamity,

You have tried to destroy me

and though I perish daily,

I shall not be moved.

Her universe, often

summarized into one black body

falling finally from the tree to her feet,

made her cry each time in a new voice.

All my past hastens to defeat,

and strangers claim the glory of my love,

Iniquity has bound me to his bed,

yet, I must not be moved.

She heard the names,

swirling ribbons in the wind of history:

nigger, nigger bitch, heifer,

mammy, property, creature, ape, baboon,

whore, hot tail, thing, it.

She said, But my description cannot

fit your tongue, for

I have a certain way of being in this world,

and I shall not, I shall not be moved.

No angel stretched protecting wings

above the heads of her children,

fluttering and urging the winds of reason

into the confusion of their lives.

They sprouted like young weeds,

but she could not shield their growth

from the grinding blades of ignorance, nor

shape them into symbolic topiaries.

She sent them away,

underground, overland, in coaches and


When you learn, teach.

When you get, give.

As for me,

I shall not be moved.

She stood in midocean, seeking dry land.

She searched God's face.


she placed her fire of service

on the altar, and though

clothed in the finery of faith,

when she appeared at the temple door,

no sign welcomed

Black Grandmother. Enter here.

Into the crashing sound,

into wickedness, she cried,

No one, no, nor no one million

ones dare deny me God. I go forth

alone, and stand as ten thousand.

The Divine upon my right

impels me to pull forever

at the latch on Freedom's gate.

The Holy Spirit upon my left leads my

feet without ceasing into the camp of the

righteous and into the tents of the free.

These momma faces, lemon-yellow, plum-purple,

honey-brown, have grimaced and twisted

down a pyramid of years.

She is Sheba and Sojourner,

Harriet and Zora,

Mary Bethune and Angela,

Annie to Zenobia.

She stands

before the abortion clinic,

confounded by the lack of choices.

In the Welfare line,

reduced to the pity of handouts.

Ordained in the pulpit, shielded

by the mysteries.

In the operating room,

husbanding life.

In the choir loft,

holding God in her throat.

On lonely street corners,

hawking her body.

In the classroom, loving the

children to understanding.

Centered on the world's stage,

she sings to her loves and beloveds,

to her foes and detractors:

However I am perceived and deceived,

however my ignorance and conceits,

lay aside your fears that I will be undone,

for I shall not be moved.

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