He looked like a lifetime supply of confidence black-gold wrapped in a Hershey’s kiss like his soul had stretched up to the sun this melanin-plated skin When he shined, we were all shade Sweat looked like honey dripping from his brow forming sweet golden pools Look too closely, and he starts to look like a lightening his eyes two backpacks full of moon and we scatter like children looking for jars big enough to capture the illumination of his essence made up not of blood and bone but stars He looked like a lifetime supply of monuments a dark sun-kissed body full to the brim with uncompromising confidence.
The inspiration for this poem is from a poetry prompt I saw on IG on the topic of “He Looked Like a Lifetime Supply.”
I walk into a library tighten the mask around my ears choose a table in the furthest corner of the room. No one comes over. “Good,” I think to myself. “It’s good to social distance.” I say that as if I wouldn’t have distanced myself anyway. The girl with the braids smiles, waves. I nod. Afraid to speak. She might think I’m friendly and come over. She carries her book over to the table on the other side of the room away from me. “Good,” I say to myself again. I don’t feel like discussing the book she has in her hands. I wonder if she knows how to pronounce the name. I wonder if she knows the author is sitting over here in the corner trying not to be seen.
In her CNN interview with Anderson, Gorman spoke about the power of words and all the research that went into her poem, such as reviewing texts from poets of previous inaugurations and studying other orators like Frederick Douglass.
“I did a lot of research ever since I found out I was going to be the inaugural poet in late December. Really doing a deep literature dive of other orators.”
I highlight this because research is not a word we hear often associated with poetry, but the best poets do it. It is not only about stringing some rhymes together. The best poets are avid researchers, readers, and students.
While writing “The Hill We Climb,” the poet listened to music that helped put her “in a historic and epic mind-set,” including soundtracks from “The Crown,” “Lincoln,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Hamilton.”
“I wasn’t trying to write something in which those events were painted as an irregularity or different from an America that I know,” said Gorman of the events of January 6th. “America is messy. And I have to recognize that in the poem. I can’t ignore that or erase it.”
I think we can all agree that Maya Angelou had talent, but Angelou also studied the art. In her muteness, she listened to how people spoke, the inflection of their voices, the way their arms and hands moved. She listened to the black ministers and the melody of the preachers, musicians, and performers. She read books of all kinds, traveled to different countries, and learned other languages.
What is the lesson here?
Good poetry is a good study. It is more than the rhyme of a creative mind, but how that creativity can take elements of real life, history, and experience and weave it together with language that is so fluid and precise that it enters the heart and goes right down to the soul.
Lesson #2: When You Are Not Writing/Speaking, Read
In the five years, Angelou was mute, she read every book in the black school library and every book she could get from the white school library. She memorized James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawerence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. She memorized Shakespear, whole plays, and fifty sonnets. Angelou memorized Edgar Allen Poe and all the poetry.
When Angelou decided to speak, she had a lot to say and many ways to say it.
Gorman is also a reader.
“When she’s not watching cooking shows, Gorman copes with isolation by reading books to prepare her for that future. She picked up former President Obama’s “A Promised Land” the day it came out. She’s also reading Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History,” which interrogates long-standing historical narratives from the Haitian Revolution to the Alamo.”
Lesson #3: Learning from Others
I am not going to say that I agree with every lyric of Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.” Still, I enjoyed the intelligence of the delivery, the poetic techniques used, the alliteration, and the metaphoric skill. I have listened to other poems of Amanda’s, and I love the sound of her voice and the movement of her hands at pivotal points. It is not overly dramatic but poised and elegant.
At the Roar, Grand Slam Gorman said, “The air smelled of Hollywood and desperation.” Gorman’s enunciation of words and clarity of speech speaks to her comprehension of the information. Rather from her speech impediment or the love of poetry, you can tell that Gorman has studied language, and it comes through beautifully in her speech.
Maya Angelou has one of the most powerful voices I had ever heard. We are so blessed that she did not stay silent! What I noticed about Angelou was how she did not limit her reading. Maya embraced different voices and cultures, and I believe this nurtured her perspective so that it stretched wide, and from her poetry, you can hear the wisdom of understanding shine through.
Lesson number three is perhaps the most important one of all.
You do not have to agree with everything someone says or does to learn from them. Remember that Yah spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey. (Numb. 22:28)
“I am the daughter of black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”
I thought year thirty-three was going to be the year of wisdom.
Profundity would find me on the edge of the ocean
dipping my toes in the waters of understanding.
Clarity would embrace me like a sister
and I would smile a thousand times.
But buried under year thirty-three
naïveté found me on the edge of stupidity
and dipping my toes in the waters of doubt.
Confusion embraced me like a sister,
heartbreak like a friend,
and I felt that I could die
a thousand deaths.
Thirty-three became the year of mourning.
A scorching misery, I would pull over my head
like a hoodie, pulling against the drawstring
so it covered my face
unafraid that someone might
mistake the heart in my hand
for a weapon and kill me
like an unarmed black man.
And I did not care if they did.
I was sackcloth and ashes.
Beaten by loss-the death of a mother,
uncle, brother, and the loss of a friend.
My tongue could taste the bitter tang
of humiliation like plaque on my teeth,
and tears turned into oceans I drowned in.
I thought year thirty-three was going to be
the year of wisdom.
And, strangely, it was.
Thirty-three quieted me.
It forced my tongue to the roof of my mouth
fixed my jaw to clench shut my teeth
while cultivating me in the furnace of affliction.
Profundity did not find me
on the edge of the ocean,
and I have not dipped my toes
into the waters of some grand understanding.
Instead, the flames of truth
burned off the useless layers
on the surface of my skin.
My tears are oceans of holy olive oil
washing away the sorrow from my soul.
Seeds of fight root themselves
in the crevices of my heart
that I have pushed back into my chest
so that out of the ashes of pain
wisdom may grow
so that out of silence,
understanding will meet me here once again
on the edge of the ocean
where I am smiling
a thousand times.
Don’t forget that if you have read My Soul is a Witness I am trying to reach 20 Book Reviews before this year closes and we are two reviews away! (Update: For some reason one of my reviews were removed. Boo. So I am 3 reviews away). If you have the book (and have read it), do consider leaving an honest review on Amazon by Jan 1.
Note: This poem is not in the book. It is new for those flipping your pages wondering where it is lol.
How to Review on Amazon:
Click this link. Scroll down to ‘Write a Customer Review,’ rate and leave your thoughts on the book.
Also, I am Soul is 99cents on Kindle for a limited time.