The Girl from Stamps, Arkansas: An Elegy for Ms. Maya

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I went there once on a poetess’ pilgrimage.  Decades ago when you could still tell what kind of small town it had been.  There was, as in my home town, a “right side” and “wrong side” of the tracks.  Yes, actual railroad tracks that divided white from black or really, poverty stricken from ever so slightly working class.  A town that didn’t seem fit for much except escaping from.  A push off point in the American South of the Jim Crow era.  It’s funny how some caged birds bash and batter at the bars until they, somehow, escape.  We often don’t know why.  After all, no one we know growing up seems to wantmore like we do and Lord knows they don’t seem to need that fractional bit more of the ineffable something that keeps us striving for freedom from want and need.  It’s not always physical, though it sometimes feels so.  For me, it was visceral.  I did not belong to the baked barrens of the Southwest as Ms. Angelou didn’t belong to the South of her youth.  Like her, my sensibilities were offended.  Somehow, born knowing that something was not right and there was more to life than following “the rules” and survival.  There had to be more or what were we craving so badly?

She got out.  Lordy did she get out!  By hook, crook or hitching fingers, she got out.  She was never ashamed of who she was, what she’d done to get out and how far she was willing to go to drag the rest of us out of our particular Stamps, Arkansas.  My grandpa would’ve said she had “sand”, my mother would’ve called it “spine”, me, I think she was one of the most authentic women of our age.  I will miss her voice ringing in my heart each time she spoke and think of her each time I hum a long meter hymn.

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